Last April I spent 11 days in hospital, on the oncology ward. You go there when you are really sick.

Me? I had a catastrophic response to the chemotherapy medication I was taking. My body couldn’t process it. My immune system collapsed and I developed a horrific colitis. Everything I ate flowed straight through me – painful, liquid, foul-smelling, disgusting. I was disgusting.

I started off in a side-room, with a commode. Nursing staff had to put on aprons, gloves and masks to come in. I had a drip running into my arm – they were desperately trying to re-balance my electrolytes. I felt terrible – I looked like Litvinenko after the polonium. I’ve seen my blood results since then, and they were scary. They were pouring potassium into me. I read recently that there’s now a national shortage of potassium. That might be my fault, I say, joking – but also aware that if I got ill like that now, it might be a struggle to treat me.

When I got onto the ward, I still needed a commode. There was no way I could make it to the bathroom. It should have been humiliating – shitting vile, yellow shit into a cardboard bowl. It was humiliating. And I apologised. Oh yes, I apologised. “I’m sorry you have to do this” I said to the nurses. “This is so disgusting, I’m so sorry”. I’m sorry for my body, I’m sorry for this horror I’m inflicting on everybody, I’m sorry I’m so disgusting.

“It’s my job”. “I’ve chosen to do this”. “Don’t feel bad about it”. “It’s not your fault, you’re not well”. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t want to”.

The comfort of nurses. The kindness.

I was in a bay with five other women. We all apologised.

“I’m so sorry you have to make me special food”

“I’m sorry I got upset”

“I’m so sorry, I’m not comfortable, could you move me up a bit?”

“I’m sorry”. I’m sorry for my body, for taking up space and time, for needing help, for being sick.

I asked one of the nurses if the men apologised.

No. They accepted care. They were sick, they were in hospital, the nurses were there to help them. They understood that as a transaction. The men said thank you, were gratefu, but was only the women who apologised.

There are a lot of conclusions I could draw from this. Lots of theories I could put forward. I’m sure you have your own. These are complex things. I’m not going to apologise for apologising, but I’m going to reflect on it, and consider whether there’s a better way to respond to care.

About sarahsouthwest

I'm now in my early 50s. I started writing again as a way of exploring the world, and feel that over the last 2 years I have really grown as a writer. By day I work with children and young people with mental health difficulties. I juggle my own two children, my work, my writing practice, generally managing to keep all the balls up in the air.
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5 Responses to Apologies

  1. Oh, Sarah. Thank you for sharing your experience and your reflections, both. I’m thinking of you and thinking of what you wrote here.


  2. Ms. Liz says:

    What you went through is a nightmare Sarah! But your piece is about the apologies and it’s an interesting point that you raise. I’m sure I’d respond in just the same way if I was in that situation (but for me it’s *purely hypothetical*). It’s my understanding that nurses in NZ aren’t paid well and I’m wondering if I’d be less inclined to apologise if I felt confident of them being paid what they’re worth. Thank you for discussing this, it’s really made me think of the realities of nursing compared to my clueless ideas of what they do. [Context here is that I’ve only ever spent 1 night in hospital and it was a minor thing hence the need to use my imagination].

  3. Sherry Marr says:

    Such an interesting point. Somehow, are sons raised differently than daughters? Your ordeal sounds very scary, and I am so glad you pulled through. Yikes. I hope that never happens again.

  4. foodinbooks says:

    I’m very sorry to hear what you went through. What a horrible ordeal, both physically and emotionally. I’m glad you’re better.

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