If you define a phobia as an irrational terror of a simple thing, my extreme dread at having to set foot in a hospital is not phobic. The terror is not irrational. Hospitals are cemented in my mind as places of death and unquiet ghosts. The arena in which monsters called heart failure; leukaemia and age pummel those you love with unrestrained cruelty.
My fear began young. Dragged behind Aunt Vilma for a visit as her mother’s body imploded under the terrible gravity of cancer. We saw her lying in bed, loosened flesh folded over fragile bones, skin tainted by the chemical smell I will forever associate with chemotherapy. Even at the five, I knew she would not get better, would never leave hospital.
The next year, unable to breath, I was pulled on a trolley through the midnight corridors of Southend General. Held down on my back, I saw a new disorientating landscape of white ceilings and bright lights rush above me. Plastic sheets and doors parted with emergency crash, punctuating the journey. My mother let go of my hand, unable either to keep up with the dash or to follow where I was going. The panic grew.
I was not scared because I was ill, because each breath was weaker, the oxygen consumed by the fire in my lungs. I was scared because I was in hospital and this was where bad things happened. Where despite whatever promises were made, you might never get to go home. Even the outside of Southend General engendered alarm in my brain. If the building was a good place why was it painted with a multi-storey mural of snake or dragon? It was obviously a site of monstrous happenings.
Life of course has a way of providing evidence for your inner fears. The thermoplastic of the universe will flow into shapes manifested from within our own haunted internal darks. The expected, dreaded outcome too often becomes reality.
This has meant my relationship with hospitals retains the same dynamics of fear it had in childhood. They induce terror. Bad things happen there. This is why, as pain cracks across my chest denying me all hope of sleep, I will not do the sensible thing and go to the hospital.