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May 10, 1971

Intense Emotions in an Intensive Care Ward

JAMA. 1971;216(6):1017-1018. doi:10.1001/jama.1971.03180320059013

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Hospitals have served as settings for some important literary works. Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain depicts the interplay between an Alpine sanitarium environment and the people who are trapped within it. Dependency, regression to childhood, and the exaltation of illness to a state of grace characterize the patients' attitudes and behavior. Great emotional involvement is also displayed by patients in the muchless-comfortable environment of Solzhenitsyn's The Cancer Ward. Here the characters and the setting are in part an allegory of the oppression and hypocrisy prevailing outside the walls of the Uzbekistan hospital.

Much more emotionally charged is the modern intensive care ward, where confrontation with death is immediate and there is little time for contemplation and calm philosophical appraisal. Perhaps this is why the ward has found its best literary expression not in a novel but in a poem—Ramon Guthrie's Maximum Security Ward (New York Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.).