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Advice column aficionados Han and Matt re-answer the greatest questions from other advice columns and podcasts as well as fielding new questions (send your questions to hanandmattknowitall@gmail.com or anonymously at bit.ly/hanandmatt) with a little help from their cats.

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Aug 2, 2017

We have too many opinions to keep to ourselves! That is, we have too many questions and we'd like to answer more of them, so that's why you're getting Opinion Overflow. Whether you want it or not.

Listener Paige asks:

A few years ago I was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. Part of treating this condition means spending ample amounts of time in the hospital. In the last year I've spent over two hundred days there, and that is not likely to change for the foreseeable future, at least until I get a new heart. The hospital near me is small, and the rooms are usually shared. Because I have a cardiac problem, most of my roommates with similar issues are significantly older than me. I am only 23, and often the youngest person on the unit.

I would like some advice on how to deal with hospital roommates who want to get too involved in my life. I am pretty introverted, and while I don't mind the occasional small talk, it is frustrating to have a person I don't know not only sharing my space when I feel horrible (not their fault, but it still sucks), but also pestering me incessantly with questions about my life, my plans, my prognosis, etc. I know that they mean well, and they are trapped in the hospital just like I am and often very lonely, so I don't want to be rude, but I also feel like absoltue shit AND wouldn't particularly want to talk to these people in any other circumstance anyway. It makes me really uncomfortable to get questions about my future or my plans, since there's a good chance that I won't have any future to plan, and even if I do survive, many of the things that I wanted (marriage, children, grad school, not necessarily in that order) have had to be put on hold indefinitely while I deal with this seemingly unending health crisis.

They often also feel compelled to ask questions about why I don't have any visitors. My father died of the same heart condition I have when he was in his twenties and I was a baby, and my mother passed away a few years ago in a car accident. Part of the reason I spend so much time in the hospital is because I cannot take care of myself at home, and I have no one else to rely on in that way. While I know my roommates mean well and are just trying to make conversation, these things are difficult to discuss, and I am physically and emotionally exhausted. Since I am a hospital regular, and most of these people come and go fairly quickly, I feel like I have to ""break in"" a new roommate once or twice a week, since this problem comes up about half of the time.

I feel like shared hospital rooms are like subways and trains, and everyone there should pretend that everyone else isn't actually there at all, but that does not seem to be the common consensus. But I also don't feel good about the idea of being rude to little old ladies in their eighties who are sick, scared, and lonely, which is usually what happens when I've gritted my teeth and dealt with it until I snap. I don't know what I can say that gets the point across without coming off as really mean. Maybe this is an unreasonable thing to expect in the first place? I was chastised by a nurse last week about ""not being friendly"" to people who are just trying to be nice after I (as politely as possible) informed a non-stop chatter that I didn't feel up to talking and then put in my headphones. Apparently she complained to the nurse as though we were daycare playgroup friends and not adult, unwilling roommates.

It also makes me irritated because I feel like this sort of thing wouldn't come up as often if I was a man, or just older. People seem to think young twenty-something girls are supposed to be friendly and outgoing, and when I don't meet that expectation, they tend to react as though they have the right to scold me like I'm a child. Even if I WAS a child, shouldn't I be able to keep to myself? Does being sick mean I have to forfeit my autonomy entirely? For the record, I'm always polite to both my roommates and my nurses, but I'm getting kinda tired of my politeness being interpreted as an invitation to ask prying questions. I'm so over this, but I'm stuck there regularly, so... what do I do?

 

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