Ghosts in the Health Machine: Visits from the Dead in Hospital

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Victoria Hume


Medicine Anthropology Theory (MAT), Volume 5, Issue 1 (2018)


delirium, ghosts, hallucination, hospital, intensive care


Ill health and hospitalisation can conjure up both benign and threatening visits from the dead. This piece is an exploratory attempt to understand these visits in the context of a long cultural history of the relationship between the ill and dying, and those already dead. It looks, too, at the role played by the machine of the hospital, with all its constituent parts, in both this cultural history and manifestation of figures of the dead during illness today. The article uses evidence from two narrative studies of delirium conducted by the author in the United Kingdom and South Africa in 2013 and 2017 respectively, as well as brief reflections on experiences within the author’s family.

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