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It’s important who does and doesn’t visit you in the hospital. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
It’s important who does and doesn’t visit you in the hospital. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Should I hold a grudge against people who fail to visit me in hospital? Add to ...

The question

Recently, I was in the hospital several times, due to a serious illness. I have recovered and I am grateful to the terrific medical staff for their excellent care I received. I also appreciate the support I received from family and friends, who visited and sent cards, letters and e-mails wishing me well. I learned how important such support is. But a number of friends and colleagues didn’t call or visit during my illness and this is bothering me. I am thinking of people who I know heard I was in the hospital and that knew my illness was serious. I understand that some people are not comfortable going to a hospital, but they could have phoned or sent a card or e-mail. Now when I see them, I feel uncomfortable, especially when they ask about my health. I feel like saying something about their lack of support, but that feels awkward and rude. Should I ask them about this matter, Dave, or just forget it?

The answer

Neither, methinks.

I mean, I get it, for sure. I broke up with a woman, once, because she didn’t visit me in the hospital. And this was a woman I thought I might marry some day.

We were in our mid 20s. She had been in the hospital for a long stay and I visited every day.

Then, a month later, I wound up in hospital. Typical type of dumb thing that happens to me: I leaned back too far in a chair I was reading in, and fell over, gashing my arm: “No big deal,” I thought – until I wound up in emergency a week later with an IV feeding me antibiotics.

And my girlfriend never visited! Another woman I thought was interesting and quite attractive did visit – and so I 1) dumped my then-girlfriend, 2) got involved with the interesting and attractive one who did visit.

What I’m trying to say: It’s important who does and doesn’t visit you in the hospital. There’s an old NPR piece I love and am always quoting by a woman named Deirdre Sullivan. It’s called Always Go To The Funeral, and it’s about how her father taught her (even forced her) always to go to funerals even when she didn’t feel like it. Over time, she came to realize:

“‘Always go to the funeral’ means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it … I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex’s uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.”

I love both “doing good versus doing nothing” and “painfully underattended birthday party.”

Seems like some of what she’s saying might apply here. It’s not that your friends and colleagues are bad people. Maybe just lazy: Maybe they were going to visit and decided, as Ms. Sullivan says, to go to happy hour instead.

I’m tempted to say, “Maybe some of them were just busy,” but since you say you were in the hospital on several occasions, it seems like they could have found the time.

Let me cut to the chase: I divide the people in my life into “family,” “friends who are like family,” “colleagues who are like friends” (and I suppose “colleagues who are like family,” although I don’t really have any of those) and “people I socialize with.”

Each of the types of people with the word “family” in their designation are the ones who you can count on to help you out of a jam, go to your “painfully underattended” funeral or birthday party, visit you in the hospital and/or (ideally) lend you money.

Friends might lend you money, but might not; same with going to your funeral and helping you out of a jam.

“People you socialize with” are guaranteed to tell you they’re broke when you ask for cash, claim some problem if you ask to stay at their houses when you’re in a jam, and so on.

Perhaps you should downgrade some of the people who didn’t visit you in hospital from friends or whatever to “people you socialize with” and just expect a little less from them?

You could say something, of course, if you feel like they’re worthy of “most-favoured nation” status and might change their actions.

But if not, as I suspect, it might be a case of saying “Vaya con Dios” and not feeling guilty about not visiting them in the hospital, God forbid they should wind up there.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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