Hospital Room Designed for the Patient, by the Patient

Reported by ABC news’ Gitika Ahuja, from TEDMED2011, a conference of ideas and innovation.

You may not know that famed architect Michael Graves is in a wheelchair, although many of us know his name, because we buy his well-designed home products sold at Target stores.

Graves  told his story of paralysis on the TedMed stage.  He told us from his wheelchair how in 2003 he had been running around the world, traveling nonstop to create his incredible designs, when he  got a sinus cold he just could not get rid of.  He could not ignore it, because the next day it had spread and became a pain in his back.  He had no choice but to take himself to the hospital, and by the next morning, he was paralyzed.  Doctors told him he had something that only four other people  in the world had.  His  sinus infection had gone to his brain and then his  spine, resulting in paralysis.  It’s still not clear what the infection was, but talk about turning lemons into lemonade …

Graves spent months in the hospital undergoing rehab.  He  learned quickly how poorly designed the hospital room was for a wheelchair-confined person.  He couldn’t reach the sink, he couldn’t shave.  

Long story short, he knew he had to do something, and while he still designs amazing buildings and products, he has gone on to design furniture — tables, chairs, tools for the hospital room that meet patients’ needs.  His furniture designs are simple and  make sense — a table with a handle and two levels, so you can separate your tissues and medicines from your newspaper and candy (he says there is no avoiding it — all patients will get candy).  

 He designed a simple trash can that could fit under the bedside table — something the nurses and maintenance staff understandably love.  He designed a chair with holes in the back, so that when a patient puts a sheet on it before sitting down (something, he said, patients often do to keep the chair germ free) it doesn’t come off with the patient when the patient stands up.  

Graves spent a year successfully designing four products for patients, because he was a patient and knew what was needed.

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