on the mend: thoughts of healthcare settings

I’ve had an interruption to normal services as a result of some general surgery, added complications and time to heal. I’m not one to sit idle so it’s been a challenge to be patient, giving myself time to recover and gain strength. The time in hospital – a week – was an ordeal despite wonderful ward staff, and it gave me time to think about how important our surrounding environments can be, for our wellbeing and sanity.

I got to know the walls and particularly the ceiling of the room very well. In my hazy mind I toyed with the grid of ceiling panels being a response to the Dutch De Stijl design by Theo van Doesburg, or a drawing by Agnes Martin. The four holes in the ceiling were also a stark reminder of the surgeon’s cuts. The prints on the curtains were so poor I refused to capture them, but they were insipid, uninspiring, and frankly poor design – I remember analysing their weakness with one of the staff late one night – I think she said I was crazy!

I vividly remember the power of the textiles surrounding me – I had a scarf which was a huge comfort to me – a familiar texture and smell of home. The fresh sheet and hospital blanket were also providing a strange comfort in the utilitarian room.

Twenty years ago I attended Arts in Health lectures including discussions on the subject of hospital environments aiding recovery and wellbeing, and I remember seeing incredibly exciting and positive schemes across the world where designers were embracing colour, nature, pattern and material to drive rehabilitation. I had hoped things had moved on from the institutional walls of hospitals. We now have the interior design buzz word biophilia, using nature for our wellbeing as an integral component in the design solutions, linking humans to other life forms, but it has yet to arrive here. The space in which I coped was bland, institutional and bleak. Such a missed opportunity – and particularly when the hospital ‘art’ is so often shoved out front in the public foyer, and not where the patients spend hours on end, day after day – don’t get me started on public art commissions at hospitals!

The relief to be home, surrounded by colour and pattern – and my family – was intense. Those first breaths of fresh air, the sight of a bright autumn day was incredibly uplifting. I still hold a heightened sense of this awareness of nature, even now a week on, as I recover and appreciate my health returning to business as usual.

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