Natural Healing in Unnatural Settings
Homelike Touches Help Restore Health
Oh, how we take the comforts of home for granted—until we lose them. Despite our best intentions and mindful actions to stay physically and spiritually sound, sometimes, bad things happen to good people. Accidents, toxic environments, illness and other situations beyond our control can radically, often unexpectedly, change our lives.
No one wants to find themselves in a hospital bed, but if you or a loved one requires the high-tech, life-saving skills of a medical center, nursing home or another institutionalized care facility, you can help restore health through high-touch, natural nurturing.
To begin, it’s helpful to know that healing is enhanced and quality of life returns quicker in loving, peaceful, natural environments. Frances Kuo and her colleagues at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, have shown how green space is a necessary, beneficial component of human health.
Because plant life is physically and mentally restorative, an increasing number of hospitals nationwide have created onsite, “healing gardens.” The University of Alabama hospital, for instance, designed a garden according to the concept that the way a patient feels and interacts with his or her surroundings can play an integral part of the healing process. Complementing its soothing greenery and pleasant floral scents, a water feature helps mask unpleasant noise.
It’s good to bring green plants, fragrant flowers and herbs to the bedside of a loved one, but intensive care units often ban plants in rooms, due to concerns about mold, allergens and bacteria, so check with nursing staff first. If an institution restricts the presence of plants, substitute posters or pictures of gardens, forests or national parks, to bring visions of natural life to barren walls.
Here are additional suggestions for transforming unnatural environments into more natural healing spaces:
Like Hippocrates, think of food as medicine. Unfortunately, “healthy hospital food,” is too often an oxymoron. It’s wise to ask the staff dietitian for an organic diet. Organic food is produced without toxic chemicals, antibiotics, hormones and genetically modified ingredients. If no organic options exist, let hospital administrators know you would appreciate having local, organic food on the menu. Inquire about dietary restrictions and get approval to bring nutritious, homemade comfort foods, prepared with loving hearts and caring hands.
Satisfy the senses. Listen to the healing rhythms of nature via recordings of songbirds, crickets, frogs, ocean surf, trickling streams and gentle rain. Many are available through libraries, local bookstores and websites.
Paul Kervick, cofounder and one of the directors at Living Well Community Care Home, in Bristol, Vermont, believes, “It takes more than medical management and clean sheets to feel vibrant and happy.” So, in addition to organic food, Kervick provides music therapy and meditative drumming for residents.
Heal through touch and movement. Medical facilities may employ professional massage, healing touch and physical therapists. If not, a gentle foot or hand massage, with jasmine, rose or lavender-scented lotion, provides soothing stress relief. Be close; hold your loved one’s hand or stroke their hair.
In A Dietitian's Cancer Story: Information & Inspiration for Recovery & Healing, author and dietitian Diana Dyer found that meditative movement, like yoga and qigong, aided her own healing journey.
Bring something from home to the facility. Family photographs, a favorite blanket or special sweater can help make a strange space feel more personal and cozy. Some care facilities even allow visits from pets. Pull up a chair and read stories aloud, sing softly and share memories and images of home.
Think positively and hold healing thoughts. Creative visualization can be a vital healing tool. It is the internal process of embracing healing images and good thoughts and then applying them to our experience and our bodies. For example, Dyer describes a horse field she saw outside her rural hospital window during an illness that had left her weak. She focused on the horses’ running strength and visualized herself running strongly again.
Every patient needs an advocate to ask questions, take notes and provide a second set of watchful eyes and helping hands. It's a good idea to keep a dated record of procedures, doctor’s comments, test results and care plans. Meanwhile, protect your loved one’s rest while offering small services that provide great comfort—such as companionship during meals or helping them step outside for some fresh air.
Repeatedly express gratitude to care providers for their services and for incremental gains in healing that bring a loved one ever closer to returning to home sweet home.
For additional insights, visit Health Care Without Harm (NoHarm.org).
Melinda Hemmelgarn is a registered dietitian and award-winning writer and radio show host, based in Columbia, MO. Her daughter recently spent a month in the hospital while recovering from a fall. Visit FoodSleuth@gmail.com and tune into Food Sleuth Radio online podcasts at kopn.org.