Patients (N = 126) interviewed during hospitalization at the onset of chronic illness were found to be experiencing considerable emotional arousal. Their psychological reactions were assessed by applying content analysis scales to accounts of their current experiences and comparing these with the accounts of non-patients. Multivariate analysis of variance indicated that patients experienced significantly more anxiety, depression, and directly and indirectly expressed anger, as well as positive feelings and that they perceived themselves to be more helpless. Canonical analyses were applied to investigate the relationships between patients' reactions and their biographic and illness-related characteristics. Patients' reactions were related to demographic factors and their perceptions of their handicaps. No relationships were found between patterns of reaction and patients' life styles, medical records of their illnesses or the types of their disabilities.