SERIES: Tips to improve your patient experience: #1 Pimp your hospital room

 In Cancer, Coping with Chronic illness, Diabetes, Patient Experience

The first few times I was hospitalised it didn’t even occur to me to change anything about my room, but by the third visit I could feel my already-fragile spirit dealt another blow as I faced those familiar, plain walls.  And no matter the hospital, I have found that pretty much the same bed, side-table, hard visitor chair and small table with two chairs awaits.  Depressing to say the least.

Of course when you are really sick, you couldn’t care less what the room like! You just want to feel better! But if you are in hospital for a long time, awaiting a surgery – a transplant, perhaps – or you are a frequent visitor, then you may feel as if hospital is almost your second home! And in that case, why not inject some of your personal style and making it feel, well, like a ‘home away from home’?

“Bea’s room in intensive care was full of cards from friends and photos of her horse Dee-Dee.  They, together with the colorful prayer quilt on her bed made by an American cousin, made her space feel more like her room at home and less like a hospital ward,” Elizabeth, mum to para-equestrian rider Beatrice de Lavalette told me. 

“Seeing physical signs that she had so many people rooting for her and so much still to look forward to, helped her to keep going.”

I remember visiting Bea in order to bring her some prototype INGA Wellbeing patient clothing and being so amazed by her room and her at the center of it! Positivity and fun are not two words that one expects to connect with someone that has been fighting for their life after being caught up in a terrorist bombing but when you watch her video you’ll see how strong she is.  But positivity and fun is also something that characterises Claire, a cystic fibrosis patient who showed off her hospital room in her YouTube video. (watch it all, but particularly from 4mins 20 secs).

Having been inspired by these two incredible young women and remembering how I had brought a small fake Christmas tree complete with little lights and decorations to my mother’s hospice bedside and had made an effort to make my own and my daughter’s hospital rooms cosier,  I realised that being comfortable in hospital had helped to reduce the trauma of those very difficult times.  Like the range of attractive patient clothing I have helped to create, re-designing the space one inhabits can really improve your patient experience.  Not only will your mood and outlook improve, but you’ll get some much-needed exercise setting it all up (warmly encouraged by physiotherapists) and it will also provide your medical team and visitors with more insight into who YOU are and some great conversation starters.

To find out how others have re-designed their hospital rooms, I reached out to fellow patients on online forums and did some web searches and was impressed by the creative ideas people have had to make their space their own. Below is a kind of ‘how to’ guide on how to pimp your hospital room.   

 But, of course, before I get on with the fun stuff, there are a few serious points to mention first.

  1. Medical staff must be able to enter and work safely and efficiently in your room– for your own wellbeing as much as theirs! Don’t block access to the medical equipment or lay slippery carpets that might be tripped over or cause people to fall if they are rushing! If in doubt, check with medical staff before you get creative.

  2. Hygiene is key in hospital so don’t create dust traps or prevent the cleaning staff from carrying out their vital jobs and if you are bringing in bedsheets from home then you’ll need to have family and friends change them regularly!

  3. Don’t damage the walls or equipment. Whatever you do to improve your surroundings must be temporary and be able to be taken down once you are discharged, leaving the room in good condition for the next occupant.

  4. Bring a big suitcase to take everything home with you!!! It’s amazing how much ‘stuff’ accumulates during a hospital stay and you’ll need a big bag or two (preferably on wheels) and a car to get you and your belongings home.

So with that said, what can you do to make your hospital room more comfortable and lift your spirits?

 Well, quite a lot, actually!

 1.  Soften the edges: 

By adding some ‘soft furnishings’ from home you can immediately and effortlessly personalise your room (or area within your room), introducing colour and/or luxury with a special blanket and even a cushion for those hard visitor chairs. If you don’t want the hassle of carrying a large cushion when you leave, you can always just bring in the slip cover and then ‘stuff’ it with your nightwear during the day. A great place to keep your PJs or nightdress to hand but out of sight!  With this two simple changes, your space will already feel less institutionalised and they provide a great ice-breaker for chats with your medical team or visitors. 

 (NOTE: For those that have a team of willing and regular laundry-doers, it is often possible to have your own sheets and pillowcase on your bed (though check with your nurses first and best to avoid white so that they don’t get whipped off and put into the hospital laundry system by busy staff!)

 2.  Let there be light:

Lighting in hospital rooms is notoriously bad. Either not enough daylight or just harsh over-head lighting.  If you have space on your bedside table, you could add a small bedside lamp from home, or clip on an arched reading light. Both will add more light when you need it but also softer, personalised light in the evening.

3.  But, let there be dark too:

I’ve been in many hospital wards where the thin curtains could neither fully block out the street lamps or lights from other wards at night, nor the sun in the morning. Sleep in hospital is a rare and precious thing! It is vital for your recovery and being able to get some rest on a regular schedule is really important.  I am therefore a big fan of bringing a black-out curtain with me to hospital which can be placed on the windows using suction pads. (they sell a travel type for babies which works really well, I find).

The other source of disruptive light can come from the screen relaying information on your vital signs. While it is important not to block this out as the nurses need to see it as a glance, I have used a very thin piece of muslin to act as a kind of light diffuser. It helps me to sleep but allows nurses to still work and keep me safe.

 4.  Change the view:

Staring at the same boring walls day in (and often at night too) is sooooooo depressing. But there are things you can do. 

  • If there is a whiteboard in your room for medical notes, you could ask nurses if one section of it could be reserved for the doodles of you and your visitors. A few wipe=able whiteboard pens later and creative fun can start.  Watch the endearing story of how just such a doodle depicting the film ‘Finding Nemo ’ gave the parents of premature baby Francis William a focus and the will to ‘just keep on swimming’.    

  • If there is a framed picture (and therefore a picture hook) in the wall, you could ask if you could replace it with a cheap and light-weight cork pinboard, or a plastic multi-pocket hanger for all your cards and photos. Alternatively, with some blutack (sticky tack) or sellotape (Scotch tape) you could cover the picture with your cards. NOTE: Best to stick on to the glass rather than the walls as it causes less damage when you remove them later and any remaining marks can be easily cleaned.

 5.  Dare to shake things up a bit.

Just because that table and chair are in that corner when you arrive, doesn’t mean they have to stay there if they bother you, or are difficult to get around when you are trying to walk about.  Ask the nurse or one of your visitors if they would help you adjust the furniture a little. Big items like the bed will most likely have to stay where they are, but you may find that some of the smaller items can be moved around without creating a hazard. Feng Shui masters would encourage you to move furniture in order to create more harmony in your surroundings and you probably have a feeling about what might make you feel better. So dare to change things if they don’t suit you.  

 6.  Don’t be a mug:

Somehow tea, coffee or even water tastes better when it is drunk out of your own, familiar mug with the almost worn-away floral design you so liked, or the motto that lifts your spirits. Of course if you are going to use your own crockery, you’ll need to have dishwashing liquid and hot water to clean them,  but doing the washing-up helps pass the time in hospital and being independent in small ways can mean a lot.

 7.  Bring nature inside:

You may not be able to go outside, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be totally cut off from nature.

  • If you can, (and if it will) open your window at least once a day to change the air in your room and hear, smell and feel the weather and happenings outside.   

  • Place any flowers that you may receive in your line of view. Not necessarily on your bedside table where they will likely take up a lot of room and potentially get knocked, but rather somewhere you can see them from your bed. And if you are up and about, stop to smell them every now and again.  

8. Decorate for the holidays

Time either whizzes by or stands still when you are sick, but there are certain special times of the year that help to break up the months e.g. Christmas, Hannukah, Eid etc.  Ask loved ones to bring in some small decorations to hang up or place in your room.  With a bit of ingenuity, its’ always possible to come up with something not too bulky that will help to bring some holiday cheer to your hospital room.

 I hope some of these ideas will embolden you to take charge of your four walls next time you are in hospital and improve your own patient experience. As the tagline of INGA Wellbeing says ,you are ‘a person; not just a patient’ and your room should reflect that too!

With love and best wishes,  Nikla

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