Rooftop oasis

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A new garden at Harrison Medical Center offers peace, privacy, and moments of ‘normal’ for cancer patients. 

By Terri Gleich
For Healthy Living

BREMERTON — When Gary Hagen was fighting leukemia during the last six months of his life, his wife Judie remembers him walking around and around the Harrison Medical Center oncology ward for his daily exercise.

There, the sterile interior hall and the “Do Not Resuscitate” orders on clipboards outside patient rooms were a constant reminder of his condition.

“If only he’d had a place where he could walk outside and get some fresh air and feel a little bit normal,” said Judie Hagen. “It would have made all the difference in the world for Gary.”

That’s why Hagen is delighted that the medical center’s Bremerton campus is opening the Les & Betty Krueger Family Healing Garden on a rooftop adjacent to the oncology unit where she and her husband spent so much time.

The 3,100-square-foot space features raised beds filled with coneflowers, sedums, hostas, grasses and maple trees. A covered seating area near the entrance will allow patients to get a breath of fresh air year-round.

A large window in the radiation oncology unit looks out on the garden, so the outpatients awaiting treatment there can also enjoy the space. The glass is shaded so that people in the garden cannot see in.

“They are gowned up, waiting for their name to be called,” said Dr. Charles Springate, a radiation oncologist. “It helps to be able to look out on nature.”

Springate said even for cancer patients with a positive prognosis, the disease is devastating to the body and the mind. “It helps patients to have a little bit of a time-out.”

The garden is designed with that in mind. A stone and glass fountain creates a soothing focal point while also obscuring noise from the hospital’s nearby mechanical plant. Still to come are glass salmon sculptures that will finish the water feature.

The centerpiece of the space is a 9 ½-foot-tall bronzed Tree of Hope sculpture by Lisa Stirrett. The twisting branches will eventually sport colorful glass leaves.

Stephanie Cline, executive director of the Harrison Medical Center Foundation, said survivor trees at the sites of the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings inspired the sculpture. “Those trees have become a symbol for human resilience and they have become a collective gathering place.”

Patients and other visitors to the garden will be able to share their stories via an interactive kiosk with an all-weather touch screen. The device will also tell the story of the space, recognize donors and have a link to the oncology department’s website.

“We hope people will take heart and hope and courage from other people who have been there,” said Cline.

The garden will have space for activities such as art therapy. And a ramp and two steps in the center can be used for physical therapy. It will be open daily from dawn to dusk.

More than 100 donors funded the $450,000 oasis, which has been on the hospital’s wish list for 10 years. Cline said the foundation is still raising money for finishing touches, including the table and chairs for the activity area, as well as for a maintenance fund.

Citing a growing body of evidence, Cline said a patient’s environment does affect healing. Gardens in hospitals have been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce pain, stress and depression.

There’s also a benefit for staff, she said. Even a few minutes in a garden can help reduce fatigue and resulting medical errors.

In recent years, Cline said Harrison has been using a range of complimentary therapies to reduce patient stress, including pet therapy, hand massage and round-the-clock television programming that features nature scenes and soothing music.

Hagen, who was on the planning committee for the garden, knows from firsthand experience that it will give much-needed relief to patients and their families during extended hospital stays.

She still has vivid memories of the two occasions she was able to take her husband outside during his time at the medical center.

“When he got out, it was just the best thing. It was joyous,” she recalled.

“If Gary would have had a place like this to go, we probably would have gone out there every single day.”

Terri Gleich is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Kitsap Sun, West Sound Guide and the West Sound Guide to Dining, among other publications. 

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