Hospitals, prisons, and homeless shelters – places of last resort that often evoke sadness and fear. People rarely go to them willingly. Although they may be the best places for us at times, these institutions lack the comforts of home and the sense of security that comes from being surrounded by the treasures we hold dear. Some may argue that the sterile and sparse environs of hospitals and prisons are necessary to prevent illness and keep people safe, but more and more, healthcare professionals and penologists are discovering that a dose of coziness and a splash of color promote healing.
My husband’s recent hospital stay alerted me to some important strides hospitals have made in reducing patients’ stress levels. First, therapy dogs, trained to provide comfort and affection to people during their hospital sojourns. Beginning in the 1970s, healthcare workers noticed that patients responded well to interactions with dogs brought in for visits. Non-judgmental and affectionate, these therapy dogs were capable of increasing levels of oxytocin and dopamine, while lowering cortisol (the “stress hormone”) in their human companions. Dog lovers will hardly find this surprising. Who couldn’t use a few minutes of that quintessential doggy love that melts your heart and lowers your blood pressure?
Secondly, community rooms, arranged to promote patient discourse with comfy chairs and round tables and filled with books, magazines, and board games. Of course, this is not practical in all hospital units, but for many it is. During several of my visits to the hospital, my husband and I ate dinner in the community room and occasionally chatted with other patients.
Thirdly, tea! Before you jump ahead of me, I am not talking about high-quality, loose-leaf tea. But surprisingly, there were several bagged options available, including the ever-popular chamomile. In one corner of the community room, tea was readily accessible, along with one-temperature-fits-all hot water. OK, not perfect, but better than I expected. Often, during my evening visits, I would make us each a cup of tea, which had a calming effect on us both. It made me recall a 2009 T Ching post by Nini Ordoubadi about serving tea to the staff at Providence Hospital in Portland, Oregon during one of her brother’s stays there. How wonderful would it have been to have had a tea angel like Nini visit the ward in which my husband was staying. A soothing gongfu tea ceremony, a lively British afternoon tea, or maybe just a bit of one-on-one tea sharing with a kettle, a pot, and some loose leaf. Hmmm … there’s a project in the making.