When home is a hospital room

December 19 | Guest post by goldfish

If I had seen the headline "When home is a hospital room" before my month-long stay in the hospital, I would have jumped to conclusions of professional hypochondriacs. Or maybe zombified patients in comas spanning decades. But life is a funny thing, and you might end up unexpectedly living in a hospital — even as a 31-year-old PhD student in a foreign country.

My diagnosis of bipolar disorder and journey into hospital are well beyond the scope of this story, so let's jump to the meat of it: I'm in hospital, my betrothed partner-in-life and our beloved pussy cat are on one side of the Tasman Sea and I'm on the other, my extant family are all in Europe. I had many years of trying to carve out my own little space in student hostels (dorms), grotty flats (shared houses), and most recently, the beigest, grottiest room EVER. But apart from casual visits to A&E (the Emergency Room) to get various cuts and scrapes stitched back together, I had never spent much time in a hospital. I was alone and shit scared.

As my sick leave dwindled I ran out of scholarship and eventually lost my job. My accommodation was tied to my university placement. I was a circumstantial sliver away from being Homeless. And as hard as my journey of recovery has been, I shudder to think how impossible it must be to overcome a crisis without all the professional input and medication and whathaveyou I've received — let alone three healthy cooked meals a day and somewhere safe and warm to sleep.

The hospital was my literal home, but I soon realised I had to spiritually embrace my time there as well if I wanted to get out and make a recovery. I filled my room with little things to empower me to say "this isn't just another nameless, faceless hospital room, this is MY space and goddammit, I'm owning it!" With that ownership slowly came empowerment and a slow, slow process of finding myself again.

The generic brown visitor's chair got a touch of vintage glam with a $4 doily I scored on Etsy. The windowsill became my Display of Curiosities and Wonders of the Natural World, collected on morning walks. I only had sneakers or slippers to choose from, but I kept those suckers straight and tidy because that was a part of my environment I could control. My favourite blanket provided primal comfort in the long dreamless twilight hours when the nurses shone torches in my face during rounds.

For one long, challenging month, my home was a hospital room. It remains to be seen how my time there will impact the rest of my life. I learned the magic of carving a little piece of the world for yourself out of whatever you have at the time, however little that may be.

Even if it's a little lace doily, a cool stick, and some feathers on a windowsill in a psychiatric ward.

  1. My late partner was hospitalised for almost 4 months a couple of summers ago and he found that photos were the most essential thing for him. He was too weak to leave the room except too stagger to the chairs outside or in a wheelchair so didn't have the freedom of walks to escape. Photos reminded him (particularly at 3am when his usual depression & insomnia were kicking in) that there was an entire world outside of the purple walls of his room. Pets, family, a different view, I don't think he minded what they were of!

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    • Wow, four months is a really long time. Absolutely hear you on the photos – I would scroll through my phone every day to be reminded of life on the 'outside' ;)

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    • I am often at a loss as to what to bring to cheer up friends and relatives stuck in a hospital bed.
      I think next time I'll bring a digital photo frame loaded with happy pictures.

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  2. "I learned the magic of carving a little piece of the world for yourself out of whatever you have at the time, however little that may be."
    I need to remember how beneficial this can be!

  3. This is good words of "been there!" for anyone feeling separate from their living space. It is what you make it, truly. Very inspiring.

  4. i love this post. our situation is on the opposite end of this. we have turned our home into a hospital, complete with ventilators, suction machines, o2 tanks and nurses 16 hours a day. regardless i want my husband to feel like he is at home and that the space truly is his and he is more than just a patient. thank you for your words of wisdom <3

  5. Beautifully written. I'm sorry you were in that situation, but it seems like you made the best of it. <3

  6. This is my life exactly right now – I'm a student with bipolar disorder facing a month long hospital visit. I am so grateful to have family, but so many people don't. I agree that it is so important to make the space your own and have comforting things in a situation with so many variables one cannot control.

    Happy recovery.

  7. Your situation is heart-wrenching to me, and your response is very wise. An author I like would say you are choosing to "not be at war with reality." Being at war with reality only causes us suffering. Who needs more suffering when you are trying to recover? I am glad you were able to embrace your "home." Thanks for sharing your insight. Best wishes to you during your recovery.

  8. Wow, this hit me right in the heart. I had a very similar experience a few years ago, and recognized a lot of this. I spent a month in the hospital after walking in there with (almost literally) only the clothes on my back. I was fortunate enough to find a flannel sheet in a box of donated clothes, which made my bed feel/look less institutional (and warmer!). I kept my coat hung over the back of the visitor's chair, and the johnnie shirt I used for a bathrobe hung on the door of my wardrobe. I propped drawings and coloring pages which I had made or swapped with other patients on the windowsill. Anything you can do to make something more personal and less institutional can make it more comforting (and, in my experience, make you feel more like a person).

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  9. Wow, it's nearly a year ago now that I went through this experience. It's featuring on the Offbeat Home banner is a timely reminder of the positives and strengh I need to take from that time.

    Many thanks to everyone who has shared their experiences and kind words. I wonder how your recoveries/journies are going now??

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