Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

20 June 2011

The Adventures and Reflections of a Former Invalid at Ninewells Hospital

When I was younger and I wanted my parents to do something for me, like get me a soda, they would say “You can get it yourself, you're not an invalid!”. For me it was just a saying. One day it became a reality.

I'll give a brief explanation for those who don't know me as intimately as others. I have Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It's a cancer that affects the lymph nodes and can spread via the lymphatic system throughout the entire body. I had weekly Stanford Five chemotherapy treatments for six months and a month of daily radiation treatments. Stanford Five is considered the gold standard in chemotherapy treatments. I'm now in remission and if I stay that way, I'll be considered cured in 2 years.

I lost all my hair from head to toe. I went from a healthy 140 pounds to around 100 pounds. I had a semi-permanent PIC (intravenous) line put in, which enabled me to receive IV treatments without the need for needles. I could only walk a third of a mile in one go, and I needed help upstairs. I went from a perfectly healthy 18 year old to a grandmother in about 3 months. And I looked like an alien.

As you can imagine, people who are going through this ordeal need a special place. Some need quiet and solitude, a place to deal with their emotions on their own. I needed people. I needed to be surrounded and loved. Being alone for me just made me worry and cry too much. I needed comfort, not an existential crisis.

I received my treatment at the Stanford Cancer Clinic in Palo Alto, California. When I visited the Maggie Center at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, Scotland, I was struck by how different the two centers were and how they each provided patients with an excellent place to cope with their experiences.

The Stanford Cancer Clinic is very modern, with lots of right angles, dark wood, polished metal and large glass windows. The furniture is upholstered in neutral beige and burgundy tones. There is a warmth that radiates from the cream colored walls. A pianist plays a grand piano in the lobby, a masseuse gives free massages to patients and family between clinics B and C and a man plays acoustic guitar between clinics C and D. The nurses upstairs in treatment know all their patients by name.

During treatment I sat with either my mom or my dad. I watched TV on a flatscreen near my chemo chair and drank orange juice from the small store downstairs. Sometimes I did my chemistry homework or texted my boyfriend at Purdue. I was comforted by the show of technology at Stanford, by the familiarity of the nurses and staff, and the coziness of my treatment area.

The Maggie Center is designed completely different and yet I could see myself feeling comforted there as well. The beautiful undulating wood ceiling, the eclectic and incredibly comfortable furniture, and the hominess of the center gave me the enclosed and loving feel I needed so much during treatment.

There is a definite lack of technology at the Maggie Center. This was done with purpose because this space is a reprieve from the treatment center. This space is just for relaxation, just for mental health. While my treatment center melded the two spaces together, the Maggie Center transports patients from the institution of the hospital, to a cozy farm house where they can feel normal and just chill.

I don't regret being treated at Stanford instead of a place like the Maggie Center. They both succeed at making patients feel safe, secure and comfortable. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the center, and I think that although I am no longer in treatment, the Maggie Center helped me to cope emotionally with what happened to me.

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