THE IDEAL HOSPITAL ROOM
Lucy Grealy was in the fourth grade when she entered Ward 10 at what was then named Babies Hospital in New York City to begin treatment for a Ewings sarcoma. In her book, Autobiography of a Face, Grealy describes the ward—its green and gray tones, the worn patches on the floor, the wooden doors, the bars on the windows. “I was always a fan of the gleaming new,” Grealy says, “but in time I came to find this dinginess comforting, more humane than the fascinating but alien landscapes of newer wards I would later visit.”
Since the early 1970s, when Grealy was a patient on Ward 10, hospital design has entered a new era. Nadia, who also had a Ewings sarcoma, was part of that transition at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In the seven months of her treatment, the Pediatric Day Hospital went from a communal ward of curtained-off beds, to a temporary facility with separate semi-private rooms, to the current facility, opened in 2001 just after Nadia finished treatment, which offers private rooms and so much natural light the staff complained about the heat and the glare. On the inpatient floor, where once only those with severely compromised immune systems had the “honor” of being isolated, all of the rooms are now private.
Nadia and I had differing views on the merits of having a roommate. I wanted only solitude, to not hear the muffled weeping of another mother or the unmuted cries of her child. Nadia was looking for a friend, another traveler on the road she was on, someone to go to the playroom with, someone who could give her a feeling of a social life. I think Grealy would have been in Nadia’s camp since she seemed to thrive on the company and comradeship of the other children on her ward.
So I thought of Grealy and Nadia when I came across an article announcing the design of Patient Room 2020. With support from the Department of Defense, NXT Health created a room meant to alter the medical experience to reflect the knowledge, technologies, and innovations of the 21st century. It is sleek and hi-tech, hinting that its designer has spent more time than most of us in an Apple store. You can view the room at www.nxthealth.org/portfolio/patient-room-2020/. Visit the site before you go to the prompt.
What did you think of Patient Room 2020? Now you be the designer/architect of what you would consider to be the ideal hospital room. Don’t let your creativity be limited to size, furnishings, color scheme, lighting, and aesthetics. Think about sound and noise, storage, interface with other patients and with the medical staff. Consider minimizing the risk of infection and falls, of increasing a patient’s sense of independence. Redesign the bed if you see a need there. How would you incorporate technology? A patient who is mobile may want someplace to sit, eat, read, or watch TV other than the bed. What would you design? What about a place for a family member to sleep? Would a man need a different kind of space than a woman, a child than an adult? When Nadia was in the hospital I brought her blanket from home, her favorite stuffed animals, pictures to decorate the walls. What would you do to make a room feel like home? Do you think that’s important? Should a hospital room be a place where medical procedures can/should be performed?
. Clip inspiring pictures from magazines, draw a floor plan or a blueprint, create a model.
. Design other spaces. Perhaps your home needs adapting because of a medical need or maybe you have a new perspective now that requires a new aesthetic. Redesign your bedroom or kitchen or create a room you’ve never had before. How about a writing room!