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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

The Healing Power of the Outdoors

Published October 19, 2010 8:02 AM by Rebecca Mayer
Yesterday afternoon I stood witness as an elderly patient with respiratory failure cherished the feeling of wind on his face on a clear and crisp autumn day. It was exhilarating.

Armed with a portable ventilator and a respiratory therapist, Robert Cox smiled from ear to ear as he drank in his surroundings that included a lavish koi pond and colorful seasonal plantings.

In whispered tones, the former Marine described the newly opened Inspiration Garden at Spaulding North Shore in Salem, MA, as "marvelous" and "charming." During his 2.5-year stay at the rehab hospital, the vent-assisted patient has not been able to revel in and enjoy the change of seasons, hear birds chirping or feel the warmth of the sun on his face.

The 2,900-square-foot garden contains special equipment and gases to allow patients on life-giving devices to go outdoors for extended periods of time. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors helps patients reconnect to the real world and to potentially make mental, physical and emotional improvements.

Please check back with ADVANCE to view photos of Mr. Cox's visit to the rehab hospital's new inspiration garden and learn what his therapists and nurses have to say about the benefits of providing an outdoor environment to even the sickest of patients.

In the meantime I know that I, for one, will walk outdoors with a new appreciation for the sights, sounds and smells around me and will think of what Mr. Cox might enjoy during his next outing.


What a tremendous concept!  Every facility should have an Inspiration Garden!

Two of the most rewarding days of my career involved getting patients outdoors, witnessing that healing moment.  The first was when I worked with burn patients.  We had a little fella burned on 97% of his body in a house fire.  He "celebrated" his third birthday in our facility.  At some point it hit me this little guy hadn't seen outside in three months.  After the appropriate hoops had been jumped through, I took him out.  Over the next several weeks, outings became a regular occurence - to an airfield to watch planes and to the mall.  He loved the mall!

The next was a lady nearly as old as the first patient was young.  In her 80s she had been bed bound for some time with multiple medical issues.  Her elderly husband provided her total care.  That was an amazing bond to witness.  She had been outside, but was only able to catch a glimpse of sky as the EMTs transported her from her home into the ambulance and from the ambulance into her appointment location...then back home.  Being transported in the ambulance, she wasn't even able to appreciate the scenery as it passed by, as she may have from a passenger window.  Our goal was to get her mobile enough that he could transport her in the car so they could just take drives together.  She wanted to see the ocean one more time.  They worked hard and accomplished their goal.  That first car transfer was a sight to behold!

Janey Goude October 28, 2010 2:04 AM

You have captured part of the joy I experienced as a home care therapist. Being able to progress someone from homebound to the first tentative time they venture outdoors to independence outdoors is the reason I do this work!

Your client, having been indoors 2.5 years, must be experiencing 100 times the excitement mine did! Good for you both.


Dean Metz October 19, 2010 5:37 PM

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