The old man Sol belonging to that generation devastated by apocalyptic famine, abject poverty, and overpopulation knew that his time had come; he made his way to the state special institution, a “mouroir”. There he was taken care of by very kind and sympathetic assistants. He changed into more decent and cleaner dress, and was directed to a large white room with a white bed in the middle.
Lying there he was given the treat of his life after receiving a magic potion: a large screen opposite depicted the extraordinary natural colourful scenes of his past which he himself had chosen to live through for a last time. There were wonderful yellow flowers, flights of birds and racing horses. He looked on with heavy eyelids but soon the eyes closed and he died peacefully. It was the last window to his past.
Those of us who remember the excellent film by Charlton Heston – ‘Soylent Green’ (Le soleil vert) of 1973 would not have forgotten that scene.
And there was that other window, about the touching story of a young patient amputated of both legs after an accident. As he lay in his hospital bed all depressed and disoriented, he finally got chummy with one of the other patients, a cancer-ridden inmate occupying the only window-bed of that ward. The limbless chum requested the cancer patient to tell him about the weather outside. The latter obliged by cheering him up everyday, telling him about the weather, the sunshine, the blue sky with the passing clouds, the wonderful trees and the birds flying in and out of his window.
The young man got better. He started to smile and took taste to life; but one good morning when he woke up he discovered that the window-bed had been vacated. He learned that during the night his cancer friend had passed away. Invaded by sadness, he asked to be shifted to that window to see for himself that wonderful natural landscape so dear to his departed friend. And there he discovered to his dismay that there were no trees, nor clouds or birds. There was just a tall gloomy wall.
Could these stories have inspired some medical authorities and experts? We’ll never know. But nowadays it is becoming more evident that nature, her fauna and flora, the blue sky and green forest have a lot to do with mental peace and health recovery. That nature is good for our well-being seems to be ‘the stalest of cliches’; but we have to admit that does not make it obsolete for ‘nature’s potentially positive effect on human health may serve as an important public health intervention.’
New Research on Health
Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disease do better when treated in natural settings, and this has inspired some experts to explore the matter further.
Who does not know about the Japanese gardens? They are cute looking and so soothing to the eyes, and a balm to the soul. Walking in the forest is otherwise known as ‘forest bathing’ (Shinrim – yoku) to the Japanese. People participating in such exercises have shown a significant decrease in heart rate in stress hormone attenuation of their autonomic nervous system and a fortification of their immune system. But the objection to that finding was: which of the two – exposure to nature or exercise per se — had really brought the beneficial changes?
So some health experts took over from there and investigated about how would patients immobilized in hospital do if they were exposed to usual hospital surroundings with or without natural settings. Wards were built with windows offering natural landscape; patients without a window were allowed to manipulate a joystick so that they could choose natural scenes on a flat screen, or see streams, trees, waterfalls, and flowers. Even fake wind was included. Some workers had suggested that fragrance from pine oil could even be nebulised to complete the picture.
It was found out that nature whether natural or fake would contribute to a quicker recovery of surgical patients; of course the fake was less efficient. “Records on recovery after cholecystectomy (removal of ‘sac la bile’) of patients in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital between 1972 and 1981 were examined to determine whether assignment to a room with a window view of a natural setting might have restorative influences. Twenty-three surgical patients assigned to rooms with windows looking out on a natural scene had shorter postoperative hospital stays, received fewer negative evaluative comments in nurses’ notes and took fewer potent analgesics than 23 matched patients in similar rooms with windows facing a brick building wall.” Those patients would go home one day earlier and require less drug therapy. However those patients near the window with sunlight streaming through do better still just as hospitals patients in natural surrounding in the suburbs fared better than urban hospital patients.
New research work has pointed out that the sight of water (flowing rivers or waterfalls) could be a good stimulus to improving health in the sick. Who could deny the soothing effect of waterfalls and the sound of running water on our psyche; so often we would like to lie near the sea and allow ourselves to be cradled by the sound of the sea waves lashing against the sandy shores. The sound of falling water has a special name given to it: white sound. This special pitch is due to the fact that the frequency and amplitude of the sound are numerically alike; this is what produces the peaceful effect cherished by all of us.
However, it was realized that many patients in Intensive Care Units would face the problem of infection if exposed to a natural surrounding; or they would be so sick that they would find it difficult to benefit from this new approach. More research work has to be done to define the critical time at which they could be transferred to a more natural environment.
Some experts are wondering whether care homes, prisons and the workplace could be fitted with more natural settings – virtual or otherwise — to improve the physiology of people so as to reduce stress and help to prevent disease. We in Mauritius have a few of our main public hospitals surrounded by green cane fields while one of the private clinics is near the seaside; the one in Reduit is niched in a complete natural surrounding with pine eucalyptus and travellers’ trees. Could they prove to be better?
The Journal of Environmental Psychology supports the concept of an ‘Attention Restoration Theory’ and the idea that natural “restorative environments help maintain and restore the capacity to direct attention.”
‘Directed attention’ impacts on human information processing; and any fatigue of such attention has far-reaching consequences. The ‘Attention Restoration Theory’ provides an analysis of the kinds of experiences that lead to recovery from such fatigue. Natural environments turn out to be particularly rich in the characteristics necessary for restorative experiences. An integrative framework is proposed that places both directed attention and stress in the larger context of human-environment relationships.
So maybe if we could carry more research on a larger scale with bigger samples we could find out the truth once for all, and confirm the relevance of nature on the healing process.
* Published in print edition on 18 March 2016