I’ve taught Harlow’s monkey experiment numerous times. Explained the theory and its links to Bowlby’s work on Attachment. But it s until this recent stay in hospital that I realised how profoundly I had not understood it. I think whoever made the hospital bed deserves a design award. It is a marvel. It goes up, down and can be altered to an almost infinite number of gradations. It is the most uncomfortable piece of equipment I have ever slept on. No matter at what angle one puts it, sleep is impossible. Add to this several hospital pillows and the experience is complete. For whatever areas of discomfort the mattresses misses, the pillows find out.
This is more that just about discomfort. I imagine it is hard to design a mattress and pillows that suit all tastes- although good hotels manage it pretty well. What the hospital bed serves to do is to remind you that you, the patient, make no impression on the system. In no way do we leave our mark. I slept badly every night of my stay, being awake from one in the morning onwards. I spent many hours in a twilight zone in my chair, propped against one of the sides of my armchair. I’d eventually doze off at about five, full of pain killers only to be woken by a nurse “asking” if she could weigh me. Or take my bloods. Or checking if I’d opened my bowels yet. Or had I peed enough during the night. (No wonder sleep deprivation is such an efficient method of torture!)
Usually I slept on my back. There wasn’t an alternative position. But one night I tried to sleep my side, curled up in a foetal position. I failed. I couldn’t find a way to do it. That was my moment of Revelation about Comfort. We need to be able to be comfortable, It tells us that we matter. That it is important at so many levels that we feel comforted. Sadly the NHS has yet to take on this message.