When you don’t feel well . . .

Some of life’s greatest blessings are things that we often don’t notice until they are gone.  It’s easy to forget that you are healthy . . . until you’re not.

For the last 6 months or so, I’ve been having some unusual and unsettling gastrointestinal issues, with symptoms ranging from abdominal pain, to strange bloating only in the upper-right part of my abdomen, to malaise, and even a few startling episodes of blood in my stool.  I’ve seen a host of health practitioners, of both eastern and western bents, and have had many tests and procedures to discover what is wrong.

The list of things we’ve ruled out so far is fairly long:

  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • H. Pylori (and ulcers, generally)
  • Colon Cancer
  • Food allergies to the common culprits (Milk, egg white, wheat, soy, peanut, shrimp, fish)
  • Hepatitis A, B, and C
  • Gallstones
  • A host of other blood tests, and probably things I can’t even remember.

They did find and remove 2 polyps from my colon, which were benign (ie. not cancerous), but were still concerning since they were adenomas (the kind that can sometimes turn into cancer) and I’m only 33 years old.

I have many more questions in need of answers, and this journey is far from over . . .

. . . Look At This.

This whole ordeal has meant plenty of time visiting various doctor’s offices and hospitals.  As I’ve been learning more about Evidence-Based Art (the study of what kinds of imagery can have a beneficial or detrimental impact on health and well-being), I’ve definitely been paying attention to the art, or lack thereof, everywhere I go.  Here’s what I’ve noticed:

The Naturopath and Acupuncturist I’ve seen have both taken great care to set up their spaces to be comfortable and welcoming, including with the display of beautiful calming images.  Ok, yes, in full disclosure, I am biased because they both chose to put MY art on the walls, but take a look at the images they chose:

I currently have insurance with Kaiser Permanente, so the western doctors I’ve seen, including my recent visit to the hospital for an upper endoscopy and colonoscopy, were at Kaiser facilities.

Now, as far as large institutions are concerned, you can’t be too hard on Kaiser.  They are among the front-runners in things like preventative care campaigns, the Open-Notes movement, and they are definitely working to bring in more appropriate artwork and design elements into their facilities.  That being said, I’ve found the Kaiser facilities to have a beauty that is only skin-deep.

Kaiser has invested a lot to upgrade the interior design of their clinics and hospitals, and when you first walk in they certainly give the impression of being nice facilities.  Most of their hallways and waiting areas are filled with artwork of varying quality.  Much of it leaves something to be desired, but some of it is quite nice, and more importantly, a large portion is consistent with the findings of Evidence-Based Art research.

Peel back the first layer of the onion, though, and the story changes somewhat.  All of the exam rooms I’ve been in have a decidedly more clinical feel, and usually feature one mediocre piece of art that feels a bit like an afterthought.

If you’re lucky enough to need further procedures after seeing your primary care doc, it only gets worse.  As things become more medical, they become decidedly less welcoming.  The hallway to the imaging room where I had a recent chest X-ray featured a strange, abstract piece of art that was wholly inappropriate for a medical setting (read my Brief Guide to Evidence-Based Art PDF if you want to understand why).  The ultrasound room had no art whatsoever, and felt very sterile.

I wish I were done here, but I have to take this one step further, because when I went in for a recent colonoscopy and upper endoscopy, the setting was about as unrelaxing as you could ask for.

IMG_7723 (900)

When they’ve got you hooked up to all the wires, with needles in your veins, it sure wouldn’t hurt to be in an environment that inspired calm.  Instead it’s fluorescent lights, beeping machines, curtains for walls, and not a single piece of art anywhere to be seen.

Not the end of the story

I’m not writing this post to lambast Kaiser.  As I mentioned before, they are actually ahead of the curve in many respects, and my experience would have been much the same in nearly every hospital in our country.  Thatis why I’m writing this post.  Every one of us will be a patient at some point, and improving the patient experience through simple environmental changes is low-hanging fruit.

For my part, I’m on a mission to bring beautiful, calming art into hospitals all over the country, and eventually the world.  The program that has most of my focus right now is my new Healing Art Cart, which is designed to give people who are in the hospital long-term an opportunity to choose the art to be displayed in their own rooms.

Please join me in this – believe me, when it’s you in the hospital gown, you’ll be glad you did.  Here’s what you can do to help:

  • Take a look at the program page on my website, or download my PDF info-sheet.
  • Share these things with your doctor, or anyone you know who works in or around a hospital.
  • Contact Me to let me know that you did so!  If appropriate, give me the phone or email address of the person you shared with so I can follow up.
  • Finally, dream up your own way to make life as a patient better.  I’d love to hear about it in the comments, and I’ll talk to my hospital connections about the good ones!
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