Wednesday, April 2, 2014

HOSPITALS versus The healing power of the familiar

A few days ago, I found Patricia Moore's RIT lecture on YouTube.  Everything she said was what I had hoped to hear somewhere.  But I came away with two pictures in my mind -- pictures I wish would revolutionize the world of the patient experience.

The first was a woman, not young,  walking slowly, slowly up a hundred steps to a temple.  We learn that there is an alternate pathway, easier.  Why not use it?  Her daughter has said:  She's always done it that way.

The other picture will probably stay with me forever.  A small Asian woman asleep in a a healing facility, not on an institutional bed, but on her own mat on the floor.  Her piece of home.

I'm embarrassed by my initial reaction to seeing her sleeping on the floor. Embarrassed because my reaction is exactly the mentality that keeps hospitals so institutional!  Oh, no, the poor woman! My western mind was full of stereotypes.  She must be very poor, she must be in a poor country. It must be too hard down there.  It must be dirty and cold on the floor!   And then Dr. Moore set us straight:  The woman has been allowed to sleep where she wants to, on what she wants to.

Isn't that freedom?  She seemed peaceful.  Don't we read and talk about getting home from a trip and the joy of home in our own bed? But with very few exceptions, even the richest of us can't take our own bed, or much of anything of our own, to the hospital.  

 Perhaps no matter how sick you've been, you've always had a good bed in the hospital.  After spine surgery, I had a hospital bed so saggy that I could not lie on my side without holding onto the bed rail to keep from rolling back.  

 Not only our beds, but many familiar things are important to give us a feeling of adulthood, of capability,  of where we are.  I packed for my daily needs when I went to the three hospitals for my spine fusion saga.  Most of those things, I never saw again until I went home. I couldn't reach them, and no one knew where they'd been put.  Hospitals rely on our friends and relatives to sort it out.  Yet many cancer patients travel great distance to be treated in  hospitals their friends and relatives can't always travel to. 

Patients are entitled to some comfort. And there is no comfort like the comfort of the familiar.  But except for being cleaner, a hospital bed gives us the same familiarity as a bed in a homeless shelter.
People on the web write daily about what someone thinks are major problems hospitals have to solve.  Yet they may be wide of the mark.  Time and again, I read about diagnoses leaving patients overwhelmed and distracted.  

I believe a major problem hospitals have to solve is allowing patients to feel  more self-determining, less helpless, less lost in a strange land.

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