I have followed the blogged travails of a recently fractured friend with professional interest as well as sympathy. The Harrumpher's comment on the noise level in his medical-surgical facility
struck a chord of memory. Uncle Sam's navy did not offer me a semi-private room: I had 39 roommates. I think the chief difference is that I took the noise level for granted, having been by that time half a year on active duty.
Something I read recently noted that the first thing that surprises people new to combat is the constant noise, even when nothing in particular is happening. Of course, when something is
happening, the noise level can become literally deafening. I'd take that one level further to say that, in the armed forces, noise is your constant companion. Even in the relative quiet of a nighttime barracks, crew space or hospital ward, there is always some level of racket.
After a while, two things happen. First, your brain incorporates noise into its landscape of living, and the noise ceases to bother you. It filters out most of it while staying alert for noises that represent threats. Second, your psyche builds a balloon of privacy around you, so that you can rest, if not sleep, while things that ought to bother you are happening not far off. Only when an activity or unfriendly noise pushes against the balloon do you stir.
I have also read some speculation that we may be wired to become our own bubble boys. Our species has a long history of occupying crowded, noisy quarters, from caves to Colonial kitchens to Five Points tenements. We would probably have slaughtered one another to extinction if we did not have this capacity.
It is one of those abilities we have nearly lost through neglect. It's a pity that most people discover its presence--or absence--when they are too ill to cultivate it.