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.

Sally Schneider

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.

hospital phone table revise 1

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):

doctor name tag

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).

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

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)

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

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.

Sally Schnieder
Sally Schnieder

Looking UP into the trees took our mind off our worries.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

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.

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8 replies on “Hospital Survival Strategies from Yoko Ono and Improvised Life

  1. Most interesting thing about Yoko’s hospital room to me are the pictures of George, Ringo AND Paul from the White Album hanging on the wall. Maybe the alleged dislike of her was amped up by the media!

    I wonder also how long she was in the hospital (I think this may have been after a miscarriage in 1968). Nowadays of course people are usually out of hospital too quickly to “settle in” this way. I suppose even for a short stay John would have don whatever he could to make her comfortable, and had the resources to do so. I wonder if that rug was hospital issue or he actually had it brought in!

  2. Many hospitals have patient resource centers (libraries) with a trained/certified patient advocate or information specialist available. This resource can be invaluable if one is confuse about a diagnosis, treatment, care plan, patient rights, etc. Get acquainted with this resource and its staff. Have a dish of candy in the far corner of the room for staff to grab. This will encourage them to come into the room and interact with the patient and/or family members, plus it creates a little bit of goodwill. Their days are often long with little chance for breaks. To be able to grab a piece of candy on the go is much appreciated. Although fruit is healthier, many hospitals have rules about fresh fruit in patient care areas.

  3. Thank you for this Sally. It’s so valuable and thoughtful for navigating those excruciating hospital experiences. I love the idea of taking power over an environment that always seems to powerfully assert its oppressiveness. Grace and color and care bring healing.

  4. Others have done it for me, and I’ve found ways to do it for friends and family. One of our family traditions was that homemade meals would brought in to the hospital with cloth napkins and real dishes and cutlery, and wine if allowed. Talk about healing! I once shlepped a pot roast and hot corn bread (with bowl, spoon and napkin) to a terrified friend who had been marooned for hours in the ER. He ate his dinner and promptly fell asleep, calmed by REAL. Another time, brought a huge copper pot of soup to the waiting room of intensive care and fed my friends AND the other keeping vigils (and threw my back out lugging everything). Though I no longer have the gas for that, I believe that small actions can radically change the experience.

  5. Thank you for this great info, not only about resources that may be available, but ways to care for the caregivers in their very stressful environment. I didn’t think of that.

  6. That is an interesting point about the content of the images on the walls. She suffered greatly from the media disliking her.

    There appears to be not only a rug but some kind of bed on the floor. That would be pretty funky in current day hospitals… but I believe that art and other things of beauty can help greatly.

  7. Just got home after 4 1/2 weeks in hospital. The lifesaver for me was a multi-prong extension cord for charging laptop, phone and kindle. No way I could reach the wall outlet and not enough outlets for everything. Ear plus and eyemask essential for the ubiquitous tv that everyone has on continuously and Loud too. Finally got a quiet roommate which was a relief. There really wasn’t room for flowers and one well meaning friend brought flowers with no vase which I had to give away to a aide. The staff doesn’t stock vases and are too busy to run around getting vases for visitors.

  8. 4 1/2 weeks! Wow. I hope all is on the mend now.
    Thanks so much for your good ideas. I’ve included one in the post: the extension cord with both electrical and USB outlets. And will amend the flower part to say Don’t Bring Flowers Unless You Include Something to Put them IN!

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