I recently spent a few days in hospital: always a traumatic experience regardless of the cause, but one that comes with the opportunity to reflect both on your existence and your surroundings. Especially if you’re provided (as I was) with a diet of clear broth, cranberry juice, and lemon jello rather than the meatballs and pasta served to the other patients in your room. The wards, nursing stations, and hallways haven’t changed much over the years, although there have been technological upgrades and some structural renovations. There are still four beds in some wards, two in others; congestion at the nursing stations has been alleviated by converting a ward to a charting room; fewer paper records are in evidence.

Once you’ve seen a hospital setting, you can recognize another one anywhere.

But when you look beyond the physical structure, the scenes that present themselves are vastly different than were those of twenty, thirty, forty years ago. Then, the nursing, ward aid, and cleaning staff were almost always female. Nurses wore white uniforms, other staff members wore recognizably different clothing. Skin colour was white. Language was English with occasional French-speakers if the hospital was run by a nursing order of nuns.

Now, a patient in a medical ward may have blood samples taken by a male Pakistani lab tech. Both male and female nurses suction those whose lungs are congested or whose dressings require changing. Nursing staff from Jamaica or the Barbados or some other Caribbean country, or perhaps Ghana or another west African nation, converse in their wonderfully accented English, speaking with staff born in the Philippines or Taiwan or Hong Kong. Our doctors and pharmacists may have been trained in Eastern Europe or the Middle East. My caregivers included women whose height and whose dark skin colour were enhanced by their brilliantly coloured uniforms – beautiful pants and tops printed with green and yellow, red and orange designs.

Writing a hospital care scenario now begs the author to listen carefully, to catch unfamiliar speech inflections and, perhaps, idiosyncracies; to create descriptions that are non-racist but which portray the beauty of a multi-national group; to find ways to sensitively describe patient/staff interactions. As well as to reflect the differences in age- or gender- or nationality-based responses.


Please see more about Jean and Catrina and their writing workshops: Finding the Unique