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.