What is a patient?

What is a patient – by D. M. Banks

Patient making a phone call from bed
Patient making a phone call from bed

Patients come in all assorted sizes, weights and colours, but all patients have the same creed: to enjoy every second of every minute of every hour of freedom before the dreaded words “confined to bed” take effect, and to protest with noise, (their only weapon), when their last minute is finished.

A patient is Hope with despair in his eyes, Courage with fear on his face, Bravado with apprehension in his restless hands.

When you are busy, a patient is inconsiderate, bothersome and an intruder. When you want to give him your attention he is sleepy, aggressive and unco-coperative. Given time, he can become spineless as a jelly fish, stubborn as a mule, savage as a jungle creature. He can possess the curiosity of a cat, the shyness of a violet, the innocence of a new born baby, the self-assurance of a teenager or the audacity of a middle-aged business man.

Nobody else wants so many different things in the course of one hour. Nobody else has such a vivid imagination. Nobody else is so ignorant on the subject of his own person. Nobody else so heartily dislikes milk puddings, draughts, washing, lights on, lights off, bed making.

A patient is a complex creature. You can go off duty hating him but you cannot forget his troubles. You can lock him out of your heart but you cannot lock him out of your work. Might as well give up – he is there and whilst there, he is your captor – a whining, complaining, aggressive, exasperating thing. But when you come on duty in the morning, with only the treasured memories of your evening off to keep you going, he can make your task lighter with his welcoming smile or friendly greeting.

– St Luke’s Hospital and Social Club Magazine (March 1962)

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