Ah, the hospital bedside – the setting for many a heart-rending declaration of everlasting love. A serious illness or injury is a wonderful shortcut to get to that happy ever after, as there’s nothing like a near death scare to make a stubborn hero realise that there’s no time left to waste.
Of course, m/m romance being skewed towards the erotic much of the time, hospital beds can also end up being used for rather more strenuous activities than the doctors had in mind. Don’t worry about the fact that one of our heroes is in such a bad way he could hardly be expected to spare enough blood to get it up – the sight of his lover will act as an instant restorative, allowing him supernatural powers of recovery. You just better hope he has a private room, because those flimsy curtains won’t leave much to the surrounding patients’ imaginations!
This trope is on my mind today because I’ve just been redrafting a couple of hospital bedside scenes for my current WIP, and it struck me just how many m/m romances have some kind of hospital bedside scene. I can’t believe that this is any comment on gay men being more likely to be hospitalised than the rest of the population (although I’ve certainly read a few novels where it was a homophobic beating that led to the hospitalisation). No, I think it’s simply the dramatic potential inherent in having one of your heroes ill or injured, and the other one caring for them.
I have a hunch that there is probably a higher proportion of hospital bedside scenes in m/m romance than in het romance, and I think this has something to do with the way many writers have come from fandom. The hurt/comfort trope is a common one in fanfiction – popular for the way it allows an otherwise alpha male character to be vulnerable, and to allow another man to care for him. Alternatively, it might be the more alpha hero who cares for his injured lover, allowing him to show a different side to his character.
It’s also true to say that hospital visiting rights can become political. One of the injustices driving the campaign for gay marriage is that same sex partners are routinely forbidden access to their critically injured loved ones, as they do not count as legally recognised next of kin. This is a situation that fiction writers can use to bring ample conflict and real life grit to a story, while making a political point in favour of reforming our antiquated laws.
I find this trope interesting – it’s a dramatic situation with plenty of potential for angst and conflict, but also for caring and resolution. Yes, it can be used as a rather contrived way to bring two characters together, but at its best, a hospital bedside scene should allow both the heroes to grow in understanding of themselves and the man they love. But please, writers: do your research on their medical condition and don’t let them have sex if they’re critically injured!
Some memorable hospital bedside scenes:
Regularly Scheduled Life by K.A. Mitchell – the scene occurs very near the beginning in this novel, with teacher Sean surviving a high school shooting and being declared a hero, and then coming out on television holding his lover’s hand. Unfortunately, things soon start going downhill, in a reversal of the usual romance arc. Angsty, but good.
Talker’s Redemption by Amy Lane – this whole book is angsty trauma in a hospital, with highly strung Talker going to pieces after his boyfriend is beaten to a coma by a gang of homophobic thugs. Not for the faint-hearted, but great if you enjoy that kind of thing.
Wishink Well by Jordan Castillo Price – I cried all the way through this story. It’s not exactly a romance as I don’t consider the ending as happy, per se, but it gives a beautiful and moving account of a man’s last few hours in a hospice. Yes, there is unlikely sex, but in this particular story I think it works.
The Dark Tide by Josh Lanyon – the last in the Adrien English series, and there are some beautifully nuanced scenes between Adrien and Jake as Adrien recovers from open heart surgery.
Can you recommend any other books that make good use of this setting? And what are your thoughts about these ubiquitous hospital scenes?