At a motel in Elphinstone, Lolita falls ill with a fever. Humbert Humbert takes her to a nearby hospital, where she stays overnight. Humbert spends a sleepless night at the motel, alone for the first time in almost two years. The next morning, he receives a call that Lolita is responding well to treatment, and will be better in a couple of days. Humbert begins to get sick as well. Over an indeterminate period of days, Humbert comes to see Lolita at the hospital eight times. He gets the impression that Mary Lore, the nurse who is caring for Lolita, dislikes him. He starts fearing that the hospital staff is conspiring against him.
Because Lolita is not with him, Humbert’s insomnia returns. Earlier in the novel, Humbert refers to himself as a “nympholept,” a word combining his passion for nymphets with the word narcolept, a person who suddenly falls asleep. Throughout the novel, Humbert associates Lolita with sleep and dreams. Humbert’s obsessive jealousy leads him to believe that even the staff of a hospital in a town he’s never visited might be plotting against him. Mary Lore is the last in a series of people who become suspicious after encountering Humbert and Lolita in an institutional setting. The headmistress of the Beardsley school is another example.
The day after his final visit, Humbert receives a call that Lolita is ready to leave the hospital. Since he’s too sick (from an infection and from drinking) to pick her up, he says he’ll be there the next morning. When that morning comes, he receives another phone call from the hospital: Lolita’s “uncle,” has already checked her out. Guessing, correctly, that Lolita has been stolen by the pursuing stranger, Humbert Humbert rushes to the hospital in a drunken rage. There, he makes a huge scene, and only agrees to leave after realizing he might be arrested if he doesn’t calm down. He resolves to pursue Lolita’s lover and kill him.
Lolita has finally run off with Clare Quilty. Extending the pattern of toilets and telephones, a phone call marks an important turn in the story. Humbert has long been remarking on the pursuer’s resemblance to his own uncle. When the hospital staff refers to the man who has taken Lolita as her uncle, it suggests that she must have been telling her new lover about Humbert’s paranoid fantasies. Calling the man her uncle might be a joke at Humbert’s expense. Before encountering Lolita, Humbert was in and out of sanatoriums. As soon as she disappears, the threat of arrest or institutionalization returns.