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Hospitals. For some, they represent a place of healing. A place full of caring, well-meaning medical support staff that nurture you until you return to perfect health and walk out 100%. For others, they represent a place of extreme misery, pain and, sadly, death.
Having spent a 7-month stint in the Spinal Unit at the P.A. Hospital in Brisbane, for me, hospitals represent something in between.
On 11 August 2001, I went into hospital having suffered a devastating spinal cord injury. On my third night in, when my diaphragm decided it had had enough of this whole breathing thing, I took (what I thought at the time to be) my last breath. I then passed out on account of sheer exhaustion and lack of oxygen and left my fate in the hands of the medical staff. There was absolutely nothing more that I could physically do. It was a terrifying moment. One that I will never forget… ever.
That memory though won’t just be about how I felt at that moment, the image of my surroundings at that moment is also etched into my mind – from the sterile white walls and glaring white fluorescent lights, right down to the starchy white sheets on the height-adjustable bed with bed rails raised.
I was in a hospital – the exact place I needed to be at that moment in my life.
Seven months later though, I was home. I still required the use of my “freedom machine” (my wheelchair) but I certainly didn’t need the sterility of the hospital. Nor did I need the breathing apparatus, the white walls, bright lights, uncomfortable bed or the starched sheets.
I needed a home.
I’ve lived in 5 different homes in my 16 years of living with a spinal cord injury. Each one of them have had to be renovated, some extensively, to meet my access requirements. Though thankfully – purposefully – not one of them have reminded me of a hospital.
We’ve built extensions, decks and ramps. We’ve renovated bathrooms, moved walls, swapped carpet for polished floorboards, turned windows into doorways, and transformed inaccessible back yards in beautifully-accessible outdoor living spaces. All in order to create an accessible home environment, tailored to my specific needs.
None of these “accessible” features however have detracted from the feel of the home. Not one of them have made my home feel like a hospital. In fact, if anything, they’ve added value to the home. All of our (owned) homes have been sold to able-bodied couples/families, none of whom suspected that the homes were “accessible” homes.
By no means do I want to detract from people who’ve made an effort to create accessible homes for themselves or their loved ones but, what I don’t understand is; why, so often, are these renovations/modifications so hospital-like? So sterile? So ugly?
I actually already know the answer to this. It happens for very understandable reasons. I speak from first-hand experience when I say, any person who acquires a permanent disability has their entire life turned upside down, inside out and shaken around a bit (just in case things weren’t messed up enough). Then, when it comes time for discharge from hospital, they’re expected to make decisions about their home and how they’re going to live an often completely different life to the one they had lead pre-injury/accident/illness. Decisions that don’t seem important at the time, in 1 year, 2 years, maybe 10 years down the track, when they’re looking to move on, move up or move out, become decisions that come back to haunt them.
Again, it’s completely understandable: Because it’s all so new, because it’s all so rushed, and because it’s all so crazy at that point in their lives, they turn to anyone and everyone who’s willing to share some advice – the doctor, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, nurse, gardener, next door neighbour and/or ‘Cousin Betty’ who had an uncle with a busted leg one time and needed a ramp at his front door. Often these solutions/suggestions are clinically-driven. The doctors, nurses and occupational therapists come from a clinical background. They operate within the hospital environment confined by strict policies and processes relating to clinical practice, Workplace Health and Safety, and sterility.
These discussions therefore aren’t based around;
Not at all!
They’re thinking functionality and clinical application and are heavily influenced by the hospital environment that they’re so accustomed to operating within.
While this is going on, the person at the centre of it all is thinking; “Holy sh!t, I’m outside the confines of the hospital, on my own, with a disability!”
At that point, it’s more about survival and functionality than aesthetics and resale value.
If you’re reading this, you’re already in the right frame of mind. You’re half-thinking long-term, big-picture but you’re likely to be in a similar situation to many – looking for options within a very short timeframe. You or your loved one is relocating – either from the hospital environment to home or from one home to another. Either way, my advice would be to;
Whatever you do, don’t be restricted by what you’ve become accustomed to in the hospital environment.
After all, your home is not a hospital!
P.S. Ditch your white sheets!
Yours in Access,
Director / Access Consultant
Inclusive Access Solutions
If you’re seeking a service that has been through and understood all of the above, consider the team at Inclusive Access Solutions. The personal or “lived experience” that we’re able share with those in a similar position is invaluable.
We can help you navigate the whirlwind of architects, engineers, builders and various tradespeople to make your home renovation both accessible and beautiful.