Over the past couple of years we spent a good amount of time helping friends navigate hospital stays. We started to write a piece about the many strategies we devised. THEN we stumbled on some photos of Yoko Ono’s hospital stay in the late sixties. The room was full of visuals that antidoted the ugly hospital decor: art and posters taped on the walls, big bouquets of flowers…
…as well as tools for creating: guitar for John to play, a typewriter for Yoko to write on.
…there are even incandescent lights clamped on the wall to give a quiet non-fluorescent glow.
Although the sixties were undoubtably a gentler time for hospital stays, John and Yoko made the space more pleasing and most importantly, full of things that reminded them of their life outside of the hospital, and in that way, lift the spirit.
So we thought we’d add Yoko’s inspiration to our list of things you can do to be a pro-active advocate, hyper-vigilant hospital survivalist.
Make the space as visually pleasing and as calming as possible. Bring images and masking tape to affix them to the wall without damaging them. If there is room for flowers, bring a vase (always in short supply, and you won’t have to bother the too-busy staff). Organize the ugly crap that seems to accumulate, getting rid of plastic cups, the detritus left over from tests; straighten bed-clothes and pillows. If lighting is loud and jarring, bring an incandescent table light that can go bedside. Sometimes even moving the bed and furniture slightly to give it better feng shui can help.
Scout the floor and surroundings to find out sources that will make the stay more comfortable: Where clean linens are kept. Where a fridge is for storing food, and a microwave for heating it up. Where to get ice water or hot water for tea or coffee. Keep your eyes peeled for anything you might be able to use: additional pillows, a more comfortable chair, a stool, a stray vase….
Some of the Essential Items We Carry When We Travel are perfect for hospitals.
We always bring a tiny bottle of lavender essential oil; a few drops on the pillow can help dispel hospital odors AND cool us or the patient out.
Ear plugs and/or Noise Cancelling Earbuds can help to block out the endless hospital noise.
Rearrange the space or room you are in as necessary for your comfort or that of the patient. While waiting during my friend’s procedure in the vast skylit waiting area, I dragged a comfortable lounge chair AWAY from the jabbering, always-on televisions to a quiet corner where I could relax. I figured: why not try? The worst that could happen is that someone official tries to stop me. I pulled up a second chair to stake off my little territory and slept a bit, noise blotted out by Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds streaming quiet music from my iPhone.
Once in his jammed up hospital room, my IV-fettered friend couldn’t easily reach the phone. I rigged a little bedside phone table by stacking foot stools. This eventually also served as a charging station for his devices, so he could listen to music on his cell phone without worrying about running out of juice.
A reader reminded us that a multi-usb charger/extension cord for charging laptop, phone and kindle is essential for the patient who can’t reach outlets, or has few of them in the room. I really like the Portiko 6-foot extension cord with outlets and two USB ports.
Need to remember the name of one of the many doctors and nurses that come in and out? Take a picture of their name tag with your phone (no need to write it down):
Want to make sure the doctors and nurses are notating vital signs in the chart correctly? Take a picture with your phone. (This served as essential evidence when we discovered that one of the doctor’s had NOT been following instructions).
Have more visitors than chairs by the patient’s bedside? If you can’t borrow one from your room mate, look in the bathroom. A shower chair covered with clean towels pilfered from the linen cart made a serviceable though rather homely seat.
Appropriating linens is a fine way to insure your patient has a clean gown, towels, pillow cases and other linens. A sheet can also make nice table cloths to spread a brought-in feast on the ugly bedside table. (Though we’ve been known to bring in a table-cloth or cloth napkins to cheer things up a bit)
Need a peaceful place to take a break and chill? Often hospitals have little-used ecumenical chapels that are generally empty. We found that keeping our eyes peeled as we navigated the hospital yielded all sorts of nooks and crannies out of the fray, like a lovely leafy area to one side of the emergency room entrance. And by following a path, we found a wooden bench nestled among trees. So we lay down on it, our bag for our pillow, and took a little nap, listening to birds, watching shadows dappling a wall, and smelling the green of the unexpected glade.
Looking UP into the trees took our mind off our worries.
Most importantly, call on friends. Ask for help: a visit while you take some time off…help finding a wheelchair or carrying things while navigating discharge… going to the apartment to get supplies…bringing in a meal of REAL food…hugs and moral support.