Rabu, 25 September 2013

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

Nature's healing therapy


Rooftop gardens in children's hospitals are providing respite and rejuvenation for patients.

ALYSSA Mgeni cried. A lot. "She's seeing 10 doctors a day," said her mother, Aubrey Rahn.

"Every time a doctor comes in, she cries."

But three-year-old Alyssa, who was admitted to Children's Hospital St Paul, Minnesota, last month for medical testing, was all smiles on the hospital's new rooftop garden.

She pushed a button to activate the fountain, and giggled as water trickled over her hand and flowed into the colourful, fanciful basin.

"I use it as a reward," Rahn said of the garden, to help Alyssa get through new hurdles.

"I tell her, 'Afterwards, you get to come up here and explore.'"

Exploring the rooftop garden gives Austin Lopez Flores,a respite from his treatments. (David Jones/Star Tribune/MCT)

Exploring the rooftop garden gives Austin Lopez Flores a respite from his treatments. – MCT 

There are lots of places to explore at the Storybook Garden, which covers about 1800 square metres off the paediatric intensive care unit on the fourth floor.

In addition to the interactive fountain, there's playground equipment for climbing, little cars for driving and even a "talking tube" where kids can speak into the ear of a deer statue, and the sound comes out of a giant sculpted pink flower.

There are plenty of real flowers, too – lush tropicals in big containers, and beds of succulents and colourful blooms growing in built-in planters on the fountain structure.

But the rooftop garden isn't all play. It's part of the healing process.

"A lot of hospitals are now realising the importance of green space and gardens to help with healing," said Dr Bruce Bostrom, a hematologist and oncologist at Children's.

Spending time in a garden gives patients and their families a place to stretch their legs, get some fresh air, sunshine and Vitamin D, which many Minnesotans lack, he noted.

While on the new rooftop garden, Alyssa Mgeni(left), and her mum Aubrey Rahn, tested out a new interactive fountain.(David Joles/Star Tribune/MCT)

While on the new rooftop garden, Alyssa and her mum Rahn tested out a new interactive fountain. – MCT 

Just getting out of a clinical setting and into a park-like environment, even for a few minutes, can be therapeutic.

"The mind-body connection is huge," Bostrom said.

"When patients can relax and de-stress, it certainly improves healing and outcomes."

There's something about interacting with nature that is inherently therapeutic, said Leonard Gloeb, a master gardener and longtime volunteer with the hospital's Little Green Friends programme.

Over two decades and 15,000 volunteer hours, he's seen anxious, withdrawn young patients relax and open up after they've spent time potting and tending their own little seedlings.

One patient's mother was inspired to become a master gardener after seeing the change in her daughter.

"Before you came in, she wouldn't talk to anyone," the woman told Gloeb.

"But after you left, she started talking to the nurses. It was just like a miracle."

"I see little miracles every time I'm down here," Gloeb said.

This Children's Hospital had a more conventional ground-floor garden before, but it was dug up to make room for an addition to the hospital.

The new rooftop garden, funded by hospital donors, was designed with many therapeutic features, said Erin Keifenheim, communications consultant, Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

There's a labyrinth for walking and meditation.

The play structures are used not just to encourage kids to exercise, but also for rehabilitation.

A spongey surface beneath the structures keeps kids from getting hurt if they fall off, and walking on different surfaces is also good for rehabilitation, Bostrom noted.

"It's much more exciting to walk in a beautiful garden than the halls of the hospital."

The fountain was designed with sweet little details, such as hidden beetles that make great targets in a game of "I Spy."

The design of the fountain also limits pooling water, which can harbour germs.

And the fanciful speaking tube can be used in speech therapy, Keifenheim said.

The horticultural elements of the garden, which are tended by the hospital's maintenance staff, were designed and installed by Bachman's, which had great leeway with plant selection, according to Tara Yost, senior sales consultant.

"They had already purchased the pots," she said.

"Basically, they told us, 'Make this look beautiful.'"

The rooftop location dictated many of the plant choices, Yost said.

"The rooftop gets full sun – hot, baking sun. Heat reflects off the building and rubber floor. We needed plants that could tolerate that, that were both heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant."

She chose tropicals and succulents – "things that would naturally grow in those conditions" – but that were safe for children.

That meant no cactus, because the spines could injure kids at play.

Nothing poisonous.

And nothing that would attract bees and butterflies.

"They're fun for kids, but could be dangerous for kids with allergies," Yost said.

Ben and Jackie Brorson of Woodville, Wisconsin, are looking forward to being in the garden the next time they visit Children's with their son Brayden, 18 months, who is undergoing treatment for a tumour on his kidney.

"There's not a lot to do in the NICU," said Jackie.

When Brayden is hospitalised, she and her husband rarely leave the facility, so having a garden getaway on-site will be a day-brightener – and a place for their three-year-old daughter to play while her little brother receives treatment.

"Whenever he gets sick, she gets sent to Children's too," Jackie said.

"Anything outdoors, she's happy. It's really peaceful up there – all the colours, hearing the kids laugh. It brings a lot of happiness." – Star Tribune/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Related story:

Designing soothing hospital spaces

Of loss and love in Isabel Allende's life


Novelist Isabel Allende talks about her enduring and complex relationship with her mother, the death of her daughter, and her family's tussle with drug addiction.

THE longest, most solid and complex relationship in my life is with my mother. It started before I was born and now, when I am 71 and living in California and she is 92 and living in Chile, we are still in touch daily. I have a closet full of my mother's letters in plastic boxes; one for each year of our correspondence. We are very different women. She is Catholic, conservative, a real "lady" in the 1950s sense of the word, and also creative, curious and smart. Like most women of her generation and in her social class, she was raised to be a housewife and a mother; she depended first on her father and then on her husband, so she never felt really free.

My father left when I was three and I have no memory of him. The most significant male figures in my life were my grandfather, in whose house I lived during the first 10 years of my childhood, and later my stepfather. At the beginning, I hated my stepfather but I learned to appreciate him and he has been my most loyal friend for more than half a century. He is 97 and I still call him for advice and emotional support.

My tough grandfather, a self-made man, taught me that the most valuable asset is honour. His definition of honour was strict: honesty above all, family is second to honour only, have a work ethic, take care of myself and others, serve, be generous, never ask for anything that I can do or get by myself, never brag, whine or complain.

I wrote my first novel, The House of the Spirits, when living in exile in Venezuela, after the military coup in Chile in the 1970s. That book was an attempt to recover the world I had lost: my country, my family, my home, my job, my friends. All the stories of my childhood came back to me in waves. I had no problem using my relatives as models for the characters; I simply changed a few names. Unfortunately, several of those relatives were enraged and didn't speak to me for years.

Writing about my daughter Paula's death was cathartic. It saved me from total despair, it helped me understand and accept what had happened. I had serious doubts about publishing such a personal book, but I have never regretted it because for 20 years I have received daily messages from readers all over the world who are touched by the book. Everybody has losses – it's unavoidable in life. Sharing our pain is very healing.

As a family, we have suffered for decades the impact of addiction. My husband William's three children are, or were, drug addicts. His daughter died at 28 of drug-related causes, his youngest son died a few months ago at 35 of a heroin overdose, and his oldest son has spent half his life in jail for drugs. I know that the so-called war on drugs is lost. Addiction is a public-health issue, not a police or military problem. Bullets and prison are not the solution. Drugs should be controlled, like alcohol, but not penalised; money has to be taken out of the equation.

I have been a foreigner all my life, first as a daughter of diplomats, then as a political refugee and now as an immigrant in the United States. I have had to leave everything behind and start anew several times, and I have lost most of my extended family. Here in California, I have tried to recreate a sense of extended family with a few chosen loyal friends. I call them "my tribe". It works better than a real family because we are together by choice, not obligation. My grandchildren have grown up in this little tribe and I don't think they are aware that we are not even blood-related. – Guardian News & Media

*Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende is out now.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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