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Are hospital patients fellow human beings?

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 13 April 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:982
  1. Felicity Reynolds

    “Of course they are,” you cry. Yes, we all agree they are human beings, but the question is, are they fellow human beings?

    In the early 1950s polio was endemic in England. One summer, at the age of 17, I suffered the classical minor illness followed by a major illness with severe meningism and our family doctor had no difficulty in diagnosing polio. I was admitted to our local fever hospital, which had become a branch of one of the 12 London teaching hospitals.

    Luckily the illness was non-paralytic and not severe, though I shared a room with two girls in iron lungs. The houseman was kind and efficient and an excellent communicator. I remember him sitting down beside my bed and explaining that the majority of people catching polio at that time were not permanently paralysed. I found this most reassuring, which was important since as a child the words infantile paralysis had struck terror in my heart. Moreover, I had had friends both afflicted with …

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