If you knew how unreasonably sick people suffer from reasonable causes of distress, you would take more pains about all these things. An infant laid upon the sick bed will do the sick person, thus suffering, more good than all your logic. A piece of good news will do the same. Perhaps you are afraid of “disturbing” him. You say there is no comfort for his present cause of affliction. It is perfectly reasonable. The distinction is this, if he is obliged to act, do not “disturb” him with another subject of thought just yet; help him to do what he wants to do: but, if he has done this, or if nothing can be done, then “disturb” him by all means. You will relieve, more effectually, unreasonable suffering from reasonable causes by telling him “the news,” showing him “the baby,” or giving him something new to think of or to look at than by all the logic in the world.
It has been very justly said that the sick are like children in this, that there is no proportion in events to them. Now it is your business as their visitor to restore this right proportion for them—to shew them what the rest of the world is doing. How can they find it out otherwise? You will find them far more open to conviction than children in this. And you will find that their unreasonable intensity of suffering from unkindness, from want of sympathy, &c., will disappear with their freshened interest in the big world’s events. But then you must be able to give them real interests, not gossip.
[Sidenote: Two new classes of patients peculiar to this generation.]
NOTE.—There are two classes of patients which are unfortunately becoming more common every day, especially among women of the richer orders, to whom all these remarks are pre-eminently inapplicable. 1. Those who make health an excuse for doing nothing, and at the same time allege that the being able to do nothing is their only grief. 2. Those who have brought upon themselves ill-health by over pursuit of amusement, which they and their friends have most unhappily called intellectual activity. I scarcely know a greater injury that can be inflicted than the advice too often given to the first class “to vegetate”—or than the admiration too often bestowed on the latter class for “pluck.”
XIII. OBSERVATION OF THE SICK.
[Sidenote: What is the use of the question, Is he better?]
There is no more silly or universal question scarcely asked than this, “Is he better?” Ask it of the medical attendant, if you please. But of whom else, if you wish for a real answer to your question, would you ask it? Certainly not of the casual visitor; certainly not of the nurse, while the nurse’s observation is so little exercised as it is now. What you want are facts, not opinions—for who can have any opinion of any value as to whether the patient is better or worse, excepting the constant medical attendant, or the really observing nurse?