Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hospital Design Part Two: Art, Light, Nature and Healing

In a previous post I wrote about my early morning arrival at the Emergency Room of Maine Medical Center due to severe angina. The doctors determined that a heart catheterization was needed first thing that morning to see if I had a blockage in my heart.   As I headed out the door I chose to bring my camera with me to document my experience of the spaces as both artist and patient.  My interest in the design of space and how we are affected by it  was my motivation.  My business, inSite Contemplative Design, works with individuals, businesses and institutions to create uplifted environments through mindful design.
I have had several trips to the hospital over the last six years.  I was all too familiar with the de-humanizing starkness of the ER and patient rooms of Maine Medical Center.  Yet I wanted to examine why this was so and ponder if I had the opportunity to contribute to their design what would I do differently.From the stark white ER I was moved up to the 9th Floor to the cardiac unit to be prepped for the procedure.  The floor was still in the midst of remodeling, that may explain the lack of artwork on the walls.  However there were plenty of signs with useful diagrams of the heart already up on the bright peach walls.  I guess giving out information is more important.

Note the difference between the bare walls and adding a bit of art and nature to the elevator lobby where patients are wheeled down to procedures. [ I photoshop'ed one of my flower photos into the image.]

But it was the patient rooms that seemed the most bleak.  My friend's sunflower from her garden was the one bright spot.

 To think someone actually designed the pattern and colors for the "johnny" (aka hospital gown I had to wear).  Where did this name come from I wondered?

The view from the bed was pretty depressing, with  the signs taped to the walls with no particular care.  Just the facts of date and time to mark the hours you are there and the names of the staff serving you.  We're talking strictly utilitarian concerns here.

And the ever present glare of the television offering  mind numbing distraction, but no healing energy, while I wait and wait for the weekend to pass. 

The doctors had found a blockage in my left main artery. Another stent would be inserted to open it up.  But not until Monday...

 With the long hours of sitting ahead of me ( and not the kind I was used to on my meditation cushion due to all the interruptions of nurses taking vital signs, drawing blood, etc.) I began to look for the beauty I could discern in the setting.  I found it in the spaces between things.

In the light at different times of day coming through the one window in the room.  I had to sit on the end of my bed to actually look out the window. The poor soul placed in the bed close to the door couldn't see out of it at all!  Here we were on the top floor of a building on top of the highest hill in Portland.  A place where one might feel they were on Mt. Olympus.  A place to reflect and maybe gain a bit of perspective on one's place in life and the world.  And we couldn't even see out once we were forced to stay in bed, as most of us were, for the hours before and after the procedure.

The quality of light and the hues of the morning sunrise brought life back into the barren space and reminded me of the larger world beyond the technology surrounding me.  For all the "life-saving" equipment around me there was so little that was "life affirming".

  Out of curiosity I took a look at the hospital's plans for their renovations to see what more they were planning to do.  I hoped it would mean more art, nature and light.  Interesting that the maternity wing was a complete contrast to the cardiac unit.  These rooms looked almost like a hotel or someone's home.  I found out later from a friend who is a doctor that the reason hospitals spend the big money on the maternity and delivery rooms is because they know that most family's first experience of a hospital is the maternity ward.  Women will shop around for the best choice and then remain loyal to the hospital that delivers their children.  But why would the experience of one's environment be any less important in the healing treatment of the aging adult in the cardiac unit?
While I was totally satisfied with the staff at Maine Med I always leave the facility feeling drained by the setting (and the poor food.) The staff are some of the best in the country, particularly for cardiac care so I continue to endure these hardships, but I will be sending this article to the hospital and my cardiologist with suggestions for how they could improve their program.

The following week as a follow up to the heart cath and stent insertion I took some bloodwork to MidCoast Hospital, a newer facility closer to home.   I immediately noticed the difference in hospital design philosophy. MidCoast Hospital emphasized the arts, nature and natural materials in its design.
 From their website:
Mid Coast Hospital is a community hospital like no other. Much thought went into designing a facility that was not just state-of-the-art but state-of-the-heart, with a healing environment that nurtures the whole patient—body, mind and spirit.
The building is sited to take full advantage of the woods, ledge and natural light. Works of art on display, from murals and paintings to water treatments and sculpture, serve as “peaceful eddies in the stream” of hospital life. They slow our pace, engage our spirit and support the healing process.
With regards to a Dahlov Ipcar mural in the hospital:

Would that all hospitals would find funds and will to invest in this level of healing, then we would all find better treatment.

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