The Horror of the Hospital

As per my promise, I’m tackling the tough issues this month.

  • Why don’t writers tackle trauma?
  • Why don’t we detail disease?
  • Why don’t we investigate illness?
  • Why don’t we emphasize evisceration?
  • Please tell me!  Why is coming up with these so much fun?

First off, I think this issue stems from a lack of experience, in part.  People can’t write what they don’t know… or what they can’t imagine.

There are a lot of horror stories out there- true and in the background of fiction.  We’ve all seen people break legs in movies and read about amputations.  Falling to your death and being crushed and even infections in wounds are common place.  Bits of brain seeping through a skull aren’t as shocking as they should be.  (A beer can crushed around the steering wheel as the driver tried, too late, to avoid going off the road, is a potent sort of detail, however, that I think isn’t included enough.)

HOWEVER… trauma is only one part of health issues.  The other part is sickness.

I’ve read books that mention things like syphilis, TB, typhoid, and dysentery.  I’m sure there are writers out there that put detail into it, but it seems like, mostly, these are words that very often aren’t connected with much imagery.  And I don’t mean *cough, cough, sniffle, sniffle, suddenly I’m dead in a cart* imagery.  I mean the horrific details that come with illness.  I love it when an author tells us a character shits and heaves until his GI tract is empty, especially when the smell of the first stimulates more of the second.  That’s the kind of detail I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the scabs and the puss and the ooze and the blackening and the smell that comes with it.

I mean a druggy felon with multiple forms of hepatitis so jaundiced his eyes were like yield signs.

I mean a woman with lung cancer who starts coughing and doesn’t stop until her lungs are a smear on the bathroom floor.

I mean Google image searching “krokodil.”  And by that I mean do not ever do that.  Seriously.

Basically, what I mean is reminding us that we are sacks of meat, and that horrible, horrible things can happen to our fragile meat bodies.  I want to have to wear a scarf to shake that vulnerable and exposed feeling.  I want to have to massage my leg to get that nagging empathetic throb to go away after reading about someone’s trauma.  That’s what drives this kind of literature home for me.  That’s the cringe-worthy detail I simultaneously loathe and respect beyond all else.

But you know what else?  It doesn’t all have to be horror.  It can be an 11 year old girl having to help her 180lb grandfather up off the floor, then having to help him change his soiled clothes.  It can be that same girl, now 12, spoon-feeding her brain-dead grandmother.

Be it cringe or cry, the realism is in the details.

I think we need to get to the gory details, writers, and tackle this tough issue.  Who’s with me?


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