Room with a View

They say “home is where the heart is” or “where you hang your hat”. An abrupt jolt into an alternate universe of medical adventures makes a surreal shift in this concept. Doctors’ offices, labs, waiting rooms, more waiting rooms, CT-scans, ultrasounds, all kinds of foreign spaces, faces, pokes-n-prods in all yer once-private places – they become “home” and being away from them is vacation! One constant is the space within you, and finding a peaceful place inside you is the biggest challenge of anyone’s lifetime! Meanwhile . . .

In the meantime, we’ve gotta deal with the physical environments we’re in while moving from A-to-B-to-C. I observed each room in which I was waiting (and waiting . . .) thinking, “How do they want me, the patient, to feel here? Is non-descript supposed to be sterile? Neutral? Inoffensive? In other cases, is colorful/decorative a distraction, a relief for weary travelers? Why flower paintings? Fruit or bicycle drawings? What about those technical anatomical charts?” My conclusion about this time-passing mental chatter (I didn’t actually ask anyone) was that within the various ideas of patients’ needs, décor remains a matter of well-intentioned function over fashion, so-to-speak. The carpet color in some offices – yech!

My twin, Elisa (monozygotes rule!) had her own plans, which I share for several reasons. First, as a huuuuuge “thanks” to her for being so creative and loving (& lovingly creative), sharing her enormous gifts with me. Second, the amazing reactions from fellow patients and hospital staff confirm what four outta five psychologists have been saying for decades (the fifth one’s more a Freudian-type): spatial arrangement/decoration significantly effects healing, energy, mood. Third, it’s extremely important that our caregivers (family, friends, hospital staff) know that there are many ways they support us, even by just being in the room. So . . .

November 2000: my first hospital stay. Elisa spent all day buying acoutréments for my in-patience-ness while I had the pleasure of drinking a glass of cherry-flavored Nulitely (Liquid Drano for humans) every 20-minutes until the gallon (or I) was gone (whichever came first). She returned with a buncha goodies: a cozy chenille blanket, fluffy slippers, the cutest fuzzy lilac-colored bathrobe, books/CDs, and more. She made heart-shaped cutouts of photos of everyone and put them in a tiny silver box for me. All of this made me feel so at ease – I excitedly thought about what the room would look like instead of worrying about my surgery!

After a painless surgery (didn’t feel a thing, doc!), I awoke in agony, got a hit o’ that “good stuff” and back to never-never-land. My next awakening was to the sight of family, friends, and my gorgeous room. Incredible! Elisa hung tropical-colored sarongs over the closets, several of our favorite dolls lay at my feet along with my cloud slippers, drawings were taped on the walls, and remember those heart-shaped photos? They were affixed along the bedrail so that everyone was right there next to me, asleep and awake. Then Elisa flicked off the lights revealing the piéce-de-resistence: blue fluorescent disco lights strung across the whole wall! Somehow she convinced maintenance folks to let her do this. A beautiful hypnotic glow came over the room, like an island sky at dusk. Everyone who passed by stopped to admire my Caribbean Copacabana. The nurses made extra stops during their shifts just to hang out! Elisa slept in the room with me until I went home.

My surgery the following year came with a new decorative concept: Elisa composed an improvised “country cottage” theme, various plaids and floral patterns draped over the bedrails, photos once again carefully placed to be visible from any angle. This time purple chili-pepper lights blinked randomly (very cute). Flowers from loved ones completed the “rustic” atmosphere. Elisa stayed with me the whole time.

An interesting note, we visited the hospital’s childrens’ ward: they’ve got groovy cartoon drawings on walls and ceilings, funky-colored curtains – do they think adults wouldn’t be into that kinda thing? Lemme tellya’, conventional rules of “mature” décor go out the window here. It’s all about survival and positive energy, and every little bit helps, down to the color of the bathroom tiles!

Ultimately, we must create our own peaceful space in our mind, heart, and spirit no matter where we are, because we may not always be in the best healing environment. Nevertheless, the personal touch makes infinite difference. I hope this gives you wonderful caregivers ideas for little-but-huge ways to make even the hospital part of this journey kinda fun for everyone. It¹s a great way to refocus whatever feelings of frustration and helplessness we all may be experiencing, and will definitely be appreciated by your loved one and all passersby. Happy decorating.