A retarded young man, blind, deaf and mute by birth, lies in a hospital bed, while a TV-set is running all day long. An old woman with brain damage, who does not respond to questions, who does not speak and who may not see anything, lies there moaning in the light of another TV-set, showing cartoons. While an attending doctor and the residents examine an already dying patient, the interns and students watch a woman defending herself in a talk show for having cheated on her husband and family.
Often two TV-sets are running at a time in one room, making an awful noise. Would one patient, who wants and needs silence, ask the other to turn off the TV? Half of the time the patients are exposed to commercials, healthy people praising products, these sick ones might never have needed and probably will never need anymore.
TV in hospital rooms makes it easier for us health workers. We can watch while we work. And we can more easily overlook the reality of the often ugly, sad and terrifying existence of those bodies in hospital beds. For that is what they are for us most of the time. Bodies. Cases.
Fix my body, I’ll watch TV in the meantime. Don’t make me think about the reasons I’m here. Don’t tell me about the alcohol, nicotine, drugs, and fast food I’m poisoning my body with. Don’t tell me about unsafe sex, unsafe relationships and an unsafe lifestyle in general. Don’t make me think about my messed up life. Just shut up, switch on the TV and I’ll be fine and quiet, without any questions to challenge you. I won’t change anyway.
To me, these TV-sets in every room, focusing on every patient from the walls high above, are a menace. Also a non-running TV-set would disturb me, if I were a patient. When I am ill, my sickness has something to do with my most inner self. There might be a reason that I may never be able to identify, but even its sheer existence is important to me. Even if it’s only to take a rest, to stop one’s course, in order to rethink the basic features of one’s life. If I don’t change from within, when I’m ill, the physical curing will be only a superficial change for the better. I will be sick again soon. Even, if it’s hard at times. I do not want to distract myself from this process. And I certainly do not want to die in front of a TV-set.
Why don’t we get rid of fixed TV-sets in our hospitals? Why don’t we challenge patients, their relatives and friends and most of all ourselves by that? TV in hospitals does not only seem to be patients’ substitute for a more emotional and colorful life, but also for the professionals’ disability to take care of their patients in a holistic way, including their emotional and spiritual needs. Medicine’s most difficult task does not lie in scientific challenges, but rather in changing people’s health-compromising behaviors. As far as I am concerned, TV is one of the latter.