For centuries, people have been designing magnificent churches. They’ve also been designing beautiful and comfortable homes. Nowadays, companies spend millions to design beautiful stores and shopping centres. My question is – with all these gifted designers in the world, WHY hasn’t anyone figured out how to design a decent hospital emergency room???

I’ve been in quite a few emergency rooms, and I have NEVER been in one that is designed well. They are the most depressing, ugly, cluttered, disconcerting places I have ever seen. Why? This is the place where people face fear, pain, death, loneliness, and all sorts of crazy emotions, and yet they’re forced to spend time in a space that does absolutely nothing to make any of those emotions easier to bear.

There are so many things wrong with emergency rooms. The waiting rooms are cramped and ugly, with the most uncomfortable utilitarian chairs in the world. The only things adorning the wall are public health posters warning you of the infectious diseases you might catch to add to the pain you’re already going through. The nurse’s desk is designed purely for function (and badly at that), with no attempt at making it friendly and comforting.

When you get past the nurse’s desk, through the horrific institutional doors that make you feel like you’ve stepped into prison, it gets worse. Beds are lined up against the wall with thin pastel curtains between them. There are tubes and wires everywhere. The nurses and doctors have to work in tiny cramped spaces. The walls are some nondescript colour that does nothing to soothe or comfort you.

In the portion of the emergency room we were in today, someone had made a feeble attempt at making the space more welcoming. They’d taped hundreds of calendar pictures all over the walls in a haphazard manner. It was enough to make your eyes dizzy, with splashes of unrelated colour in images everywhere you looked. It was a very sad attempt at redeeming an ugly space.

That’s just the SPACE. Don’t get me started on hallway medicine, where people have to spend hours and sometimes days lying in beds in the middle of hallways because there are not enough spaces for them elsewhere. More than once, I’ve had to lay on one of those hallway beds for several hours.

I could go on and on, but to tell you the truth, this rant is probably just my lame attempt at masking the real reason why I’m a little out of sorts tonight. We were in an emergency room tonight. Marcel’s dad is back in the hospital. His heart is deteriorating. He needs surgery, but it’s taken too long for them to book it, so he ended up with another heart attack. This time, they probably won’t send him home again until they can manage to schedule his surgery. Between by-passes and valve replacement, they practically have to rebuild his heart.

There is so little I can say about this. It’s not really my story to tell, since I am the in-law. But I can tell you that it hurts. No one wants to lose him, but nobody can change the way he has chosen to live his life. Nobody can hold him here. They can try to rebuild his heart, but they may not be able to ensure that it keeps beating.

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