Boomers and Hospitals: Then and Now

Recently, Mister Boomer had the occasion to visit a family member in a hospital. It struck him how different hospitals are now as compared to our early days of boomerhood.

For starters, hospitals in the 1950’s and ’60s were often stark and industrial, with uninspired painted plaster or cinder block walls and vinyl tile floors shined to the max to render the appearance of a sanitary environment — and that was just the waiting room, solid wood chairs and all. This form-follows-function zeitgeist may have been helpful in keeping the premises as sterile as possible, but gave the feeling of being cold, uninviting and even intimidating. Now, colorful artwork, fabric chairs, skylighted lobbies and — sanitary horror of horrors — carpeting, greet visitors entering hospitals.

Nurses offer another good comparison of then and now. In the boomer-era hospital, nurses wore pure white uniforms and funny caps that immediately identified the woman (they were almost exclusively women back then) as a nurse, and possibly the rank she had received, if you could speak the nurse-cap language. Today’s nurses dress in a variety of colors, usually based on their function and rank, and caps are a thing of the past. Where nursing was once considered an occupation for women, today men are increasingly entering the nursing field.

Hospital rooms have changed, too. Where once there was just a bed and bedside stand, now rooms are filled with plugs, outlets, wires, screens and assorted electronic doodads that were the stuff of science fiction in the ’50s and ’60s.

Mister Boomer recalls that in his early days, children under the age of 12 were not permitted to visit patients in rooms. He and his siblings would spend time in those sterile waiting rooms while his father visited his mother, or his parents visited relatives. On some occasions, they waited in the parking lot until their father would visit their mother’s room and open the window so she could wave at her children. Today rules may vary from place to place, but generally speaking, children accompanied by a parent or guardian are now welcomed as visitors at most hospitals.

One of the biggest changes in hospitals among the four to six decades we’ve lived may be the relationship between doctor and patient. In boomer years, doctors were clear authoritative figures that were rarely questioned. You didn’t ask your doctor about your diagnosis or prognosis, he told you what he wanted you to know, and that was fine for most people. Today’s patient wants to take an active role in his or her treatment — is it any wonder, since boomers always wanted to do things differently than the generations before?

Well, real life hospitals may not have been like Dr. Casey’s, but on display in that clip is a rough sense of hospital life, minus the private room and accoutrements from a businessman patient.

How about it, boomers? Did an early visit to a hospital traumatize you for life, or have you embraced the Modern Age of Hospitals in all their technological glory?