By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
Medical practice’s use of feng shui offers calm during treatment
LITTLE SILVER – When battling cancer, patients are looking for comfort, peace and the support to get through the momentous challenge.
When the Hematology-Oncology of Central New Jersey office was moving from Red Bank to 180 White Road in Little Silver, they hired a designer to create a new space that would do just that. What the office got instead was a healing place that embodies the earth and a lesson in alternative design practices.
As designer E. Jeanne Costine, of E. Jeanne Costine Interior Design in Long Branch, started working on the project, a former center patient who was a feng shui expert, Trish Proetta, asked to be involved in the design.
Costine and Proetta hoped the result of that collaboration would be a calming, peaceful place of positivity and healing. A plaque in the office waiting room is a tribute to Costine, and Proetta, who passed away shortly before the new office opened in 2005.
Eight years later, the doctors, staff and patients agree that the office design has met those goals.
“Trish talked about texture and colors and flow and energy and I thought: You do feng shui, I just want function,” says Debbie Mayo-Wolf, office manager, who organized much of move and knew little of feng shui. Feng shui is a Chinese practice in which a structure or site is chosen or laid out to harmonize with the spiritual forces that inhabit it.
“We were doing the entire suite with four doctors – and not one of them share the same opinion on anything,” she says. “But it didn’t take us long to realize that a lot of these ideas were good.”
Proetta interviewed patients, asking their opinions, likes and dislikes, and their feelings during treatments. “She knew what it was like” to be a patient, says Mayo-Wolf.
Working together, the women designed a 9,000-square-foot office creating a positive feng shui, which uses the natural movement of chi – life flow – of five Chinese elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. The space created is intended to nurture physical and psychological health and well-being. From the water wall in the waiting room to the warm colors and textures throughout the halls and exam rooms, the office’s design is meant to conjure feelings of healing energy.
One of Proetta’s suggestions was to create a small meeting room. According to Mayo-Wolf, Proetta insisted that when patients come to the office to receive their test and lab results, it’s a tense time. “She told us, ‘you’re sitting in the doctor’s office, you haven’t slept in a week, there are charts and papers and you’re sitting in a mousy little chair and the doctor is in a big tall leather chair’… It was horrible …We never thought about it before.”
As a result, Costine and Proetta designed a small conference room with a love seat and two chairs – the same size, but different fabrics – for patient and doctor to be seated.
The infusion room, where patients spend hours in treatment, was Proetta’s “biggest triumph,” according to Mayo-Wolf.
Proetta shared with them that when she was going through treatment, she would close her eyes and entertain thoughts of leaving and heading to another place – on a boat or walking in a park, walking farther away. “Leaving my troubles behind, she said,” according to Mayo-Wolf.
After sketches, Costine hired three area artists, Jim Fitzmaurice, Brook Steadman and Marlis Steadman, who painted murals of warm, bucolic landscapes with green grass – which connotes energy – and tiny details, such as a canoe and ladybug sprinkled throughout.
“Each design shows a way out,” Mayo-Wolf says.
Feng shui, a mystical practice to many, suddenly became quite clear and uplifting to many of the staff at Hematology-Oncology of Central New Jersey as the space was designed. So much so that the staff of about 30 was invited to write inspirational, healing messages on the walls of the infusion room before painting began. Positive affirmations, written in script in pencil on the primed wall, ranged from “always believe” to “stay strong.”
“It was important to have the underlying theme reinforced – even with the beautiful landscape with flower and birds” painted on top, Costine says.
Another area Mayo-Wolf says Proetta pointed out was the long walk toward a treatment room that could leave a patient with an ominous feeling. So instead, they created lighted areas and a change in the patterned floor. “The sense is you’re entering a spot and leaving a space, not walking down a dreaded hall,” she says.
Although she had limited knowledge of feng shui when she first signed on to design the space, Costine says she learned a tremendous amount while working alongside Proetta.
“I’ve taken a lot of it with me,” she says. “We grew close and became personal friends. She helped me in my spiritual journey. She taught me more things about myself than I realized.” Costine now often uses feng shui in her design work.