When a person walks into a medical facility, hospital, or otherwise, they walk right past the gift shop. Usually, people walk right past it, just to ask someone else passing by: ‘Where is the gift shop?’, because they were headed there anyway and didn’t see it on their way in to visit their loved one or friend.
I am writing today as a someone who has been hospitalised both in psychiatric facilities and someone who has had multiple medical interventions and been inpatient in a medical facility. Even for the most minor of medical procedures that have landed me in the hospital, I have been showered with cards, teddy bears, flowers even, and the list goes on and on.
This phenomena isn’t specific to my circumstances. My roommates in the medical facilities, people around the unit, all seem to be showered by their visitors with gifts from the lobby gift shop or their local pharmacy.
Even down to clothing or a special item from their home, I have seen family members bring these possessions, too, into the hospital to further comfort their loved ones.
Sadly, in the psychiatric hospital, this doesn’t happen. Not only is the ‘gift shop’ usually locked away, or only open a few hours of the day, and located in some inaccessible area of the facility that requires staff members to personally escort you to and from the shop, patients are usually not allowed to visit the shop themselves.
In one hospital I was inpatient, I needed to attain a certain level of privilege determined by the clinical staff to be able to access the shop with behavioural health guards or attendants, to personally escort me to and from the shop.
One of the saddest and profound memories I have on this topic from my stint at the state hospital in upstate New York is being jealous that a friend who finally had a visit from a family member.
I observed the friend sitting with their family eating a Big Mac from McDonald’s. The jealousy was visceral; I felt it. I remember sitting and staring at her eating the other half of the sandwich later after her family left at dinner time.
A bit of background here: In the state hospital system, meals are calculated right down the calorie. It is assumed, because you are a ‘mental patient’ that you don’t know how to eat, or what to eat, so the dietitians determine your meals for you. I tried to find a loophole, claiming allergies, other lies that might ameliorate my dining and land me a more consumable plate of food but no luck. I have more documentation from dietary than my clinical staff.
In fact, one such patient, an elderly woman ready to be transferred to the geriatric ward was so upset with her food she did a running dash at someone else’s bowl of soup, and kept running,ultimately, to be tackled by the guards or technicians. I was never that bold. I engaged in trading. Which, when discovered by the staff, usually left me in dining isolation at my own table for punishment.
So, when I say, people with mental health conditions don’t get flowers, it speaks to larger problem with the manner in which this group of people are viewed by their healthy counterparts when determining if in fact, these folks deserve a little empathy, a gift card, or sandwich from their favourite shops.
*** Image credit: Freepik
Max E. Guttman, LCSW is a psychotherapist and owner of Recovery Now, a mental health private practice in New York City.