Brett Schrewe

and 1 more

The onset of acute illness may be accompanied by a profound sense of disorientation for patients. Addressing this vulnerability is a key part of a physician’s purview, yet well-intended efforts to do so may be impeded by myriad competing tasks in clinical practice. Resolving this dilemma goes beyond appealing to altruism, as its limitless demands may lead to physician burnout, disillusionment, and a narrowed focus on the biomedical aspects of care in the interest of self-preservation. The authors propose an ethic of hospitality that may better guide physicians in attending to the comprehensive needs of patients that have entered “the kingdom of the sick”. Using philosophical methods, the authors explore what compels people to present to emergent medical attention and why altruism may not offer physicians a sustainable way to address the vulnerabilities that occur in such situations. They then present the concept of hospitality from a Derridean perspective and use it to interpret a narrative case of an on-call paediatrician caring for an infant with bronchiolitis to demonstrate how this approach may be practically implemented in the acute care hospital context. Hospitality allows physicians to acknowledge that clinical presentations that are routine in their world may be disorienting and frightening to patients experiencing them acutely. Further, it recognizes that the vulnerability that accompanies acute illness may be compounded by the unfamiliarity of the hospital environment in which patients have sought support. While it is unlikely that anything physicians do will make the hospital a place where patients and caregivers will desire to be, hospitality may focus their efforts upon making it less unwelcoming. Specifically, it offers an orientation that supports patients in navigating the disorienting and unfamiliar terrains of acute illness, the hospital setting in which help is sought, and engagement with the health care system writ large.