Where have all the flowers gone?

In the mid-nineties, I had major abdominal surgery. My hospital room was filled with flowers: every flat surface bloomed with best wishes from family, friends, friends of family, fellow students … it was beautiful to see. (Or maybe that was just the morphine drip doing its thing!)

Three years ago, I became very unwell* due to a confluence of misfortunes. Some of these were work-related. I ended up in a private psychiatric hospital, via the emergency department of a public hospital. A representative of the organization I worked for visited me. Apart from suggesting I resign my position** she also conveyed a message from the 2IC, which went something like this: “When one of our staff goes to hospital, we usually send flowers and put a card in the staff room for people to sign. But given the nature of your illness, we won’t be doing this for you.”

I lived in that hospital for approximately ten weeks, and only received flowers from  my immediate family.

The sad case is that flowers are rare in psychiatric hospitals. I recently shared a room with a young lady who was ‘in’ for the first time. She couldn’t believe it: “Where are all the flowers?” she’d ask. “People just don’t get them”, I explained. Fortunately, she had supportive friends and family to send her flowers. She was too young, but the final words of the song kept running through my head: “When will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?”

During that admission, I received two bouquets, one from my sister and another from a fellow patient. When I left, the latter were still fresh, so I put them on a shelf near the nurse’s station. Unfortunately this was a time I ‘bounced back’ into hospital eight days later. Those same flowers were still there. That’s how rare bouquets are on psychiatric wards: the same  flowers were there, because none had been put there to replace them.

Now, of course, it may be that your friend hasn’t told you they’re in hospital, and this is due to the stigma still attached to mental ill-health. I’ll deal with that extensively in future posts. (This post is about flowers, not stigma, ha ha – don’t worry, botanists will get the joke.)

People, if someone’s sick, they’re sick. If you’re the sort of person who’d send flowers to a cancer sufferer, someone with a broken leg, or a mother with a newborn baby, and you hear that a friend is in a psychiatric clinic, for goodness’ sake: send flowers.


* Just so we’re clear, on this site, unless otherwise specified, “unwell” refers to a state of mental illness.

** A dubious suggestion from a legal point of view; this is where you handball it to your union, folks!

Disclaimer: Dysthymia Bree has no financial interest in the florist industry. But she does admit to a fondness for flowers.

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