One of my earliest memories must be when I was around 3 years old, and for some reason I was taken to hospital under false pretences, for a minor operation to my throat - from the outside (I still bear the scar).
I thought it a bit strange to be wearing pajamas in the middle of the day, and even stranger to be put into a bed in a room full of other beds, each one occupied by boys who were older than me. The next strange thing to happen was that I was presented with a giant box of Maltesers - my favourites at the time - by a nurse who stood between me and the door. Not just a little bag of them, but a whole box, all to myself. As she tore away the cellophane wrapper from the box, trying to convince me how lucky I was, I began to smell a rat.
Sitting in the bed with the open box in my hands and the nurse trying to distract my attention by encouraging me to eat some of the sweets, I looked over her shoulder to the round, port-hole window of the ward door, just in time to catch a glimpse of my departing mother, who was taking a last look at me as she beat a hasty retreat from the hospital. Instantly, I realised what had been going on.
In an uncontrollable fit of fear, anger and sense of betrayal, I threw the box of Maltesers away from me as hard as I could, and I still vividly remember the awful feeling of despair as I watched the dozens of little, brown, chocolate balls rolling under the beds in all directions, and the nurse crawling after them on hands and knees, vainly trying to divert me from the horror and hopelessness by making it as comical as she was capable of doing, given the circumstances.
I have only recently found out that my mother was again looking through the round window of the operating theatre when I was under the anaesthetic, only to see a couple of surgeons jumping up and down on my chest, trying to revive me from what might have been heart-failure, and although I have no specific memories of that, I daresay it is lurking somewhere in the depths of my psyche.
It didn't end there. When I at last came home, there was a visit from the G.P. to remove the dressing. Since I had now come to regard all things medical in the same way that animals must view abattoirs, I put up a fight. I locked myself in the toilet - something I had been strictly forbidden to do under any other circumstances. I remember first my mother coming to the door, and begging me to unlock it. That didn't work. Then my father came and made threats as to what would happen if I didn't come out. That didn't work either. Then the doctor came and began cajoling me, telling me I was a big boy now (another lie) and must come out and face the music. That didn't work either. As I heard the doctor losing his temper and threatening to leave, it dawned on me that I couldn't keep this up forever, so I softly began to try and strike a deal from the other side of the wooden door, and I heard them all shut up and listen.
I would come out, I said, if the doctor PROMISED to remove the dressing very slowly. He promised he would, but I wanted to hear him say it a few times before I believed him. After he had, I cautiously withdrew the bolt and walked out of the door and toward the doctor, trembling with fear.
I stood still as he gently picked at the corner of the adhesive dressing until he had a purchase on it between his finger and thumb. There was a slight pause as he drew breath. Then - with one violent, sweeping arm movement - he yanked the dressing away from my neck with vicious force, and I knew at that moment that he was punishing me for wasting his precious time by locking myself in the lavatory. Through the tears of pain and rage, I saw him leave through the back door, and my attitude to the medical profession in general was set for life.
I suppose the point of this post is that you have to be careful how you handle frightened children - lying to them about the inevitable does no good at all, and not having the patience or courage to allay their fears by telling the truth, does not equip them for a fearless adult life.
I'm a big boy now (another lie) but I have only been able to enter hospitals to visit others for about 10 years, and even now it's with great reluctance and trepidation. From what I've heard, it is best to stay away unless you absolutely cannot anyway...