The Power of Designing Your Sick Bed

Five years ago, I was in a car accident that has since left me in and out of a sick bed with chronic pain and ankle problems. I was just 20 years old when it happened—constantly up and about, experiencing all that the world had to offer—and to be forcefully slowed down and stuck at home felt just as painful mentally as it did physically. In the half decade since, I’ve made strides with physiotherapy and surgery and the pain has ebbed and flowed, but, through all this, one thing has stayed constant: the importance of having a well-curated bedroom. 

At first, when my medical bills were, let’s say, acute and my cash flow was decidedly not, personalizing my space translated to simple amendments like posters surrounding my bed, or at the following apartment, a set of Leanne Shapton’s watercolor postcards dotted around the bed frame. Now, as time has passed and I’ve been able to indulge a bit more, I’ve found that creating a space that centers on an earth-toned color palette allows me to better handle the turbulence of chronic pain.

Through talking with others who have dealt with similar problems, I realized how common a salve decorating is for dealing with health issues. I’m reminded of the pleasure my late grandmother got from curating the decor that surrounded her sick bed over a decade ago—nothing particularly advanced, but plenty of photos, personal frames, and blankets to make the sterile atmosphere of the hospital feel more homey. 

In bed with the Morrow Soft Goods coverlet and Morrow Soft Goods throw pillow I bought in anticipation of my surgery. 

Flower deliveries after surgery added an element of excitement to my bedroom. 

For Kathy Joyce, a 25-year-old agoraphobe, keeping her space calm and decorating around specific motifs is particularly comforting—think loads of heart-shaped accents, crucifixes, and—as she admit with a laugh—anything with the Road Runner on it. “This sounds so tortured artist, but there’s so much going on in my head that I don’t need to be stimulated by my space—I want to be soothed by it,” she says. Kathy shares another element of her room’s decor that makes living with agoraphobia easier: “I feel like decorating my space or organizing my space is a way of coping with my shame around it. Some of it is innate, I like nice and pretty things, but I wonder if I’d be so uptight about [my decor] if I weren’t so ashamed.” 

The decoration of my own bedroom was certainly about outside perception too, specifically as I prepared for surgery last summer. Anticipating at least a month straight spent almost entirely in my bedroom, I lined up practical elements (a case of Soylent and a jumbo box of sterile gauze were procured) but I also dolled up my room to be especially accommodating for when guests would inevitably come to visit. Anything resembling a fashionable outfit was out of reach in my post-op state, so my bedroom decor filled that self expression void. 

“Buying decor for my room actually gives me a completely different sense of joy than buying clothes for myself. It’s a lot less fleeting and a lot more comforting,” Alex states. 

Photo: Alex Berner Coe

Alex Berner Coe, an executive producer at One Thousand Birds who was diagnosed with cancer in 2021, has decorated her bedroom walls and ceiling with a collection of silk scarves that she procured while going through chemotherapy. “I lost my hair and part of coping with that loss was collecting vintage silk scarves of all different types of size and pattern and color,” she explains. “Some of them were too delicate to wear, or the coloring wasn’t right for my face, or some of them were gifts and I thought, Oh, I love this. I wouldn’t wear it, but I love it. But, just the same, it still is aesthetically so me, it’s just not what I would wear. I have hung a lot of those items up on my walls and ceilings and they’re just a reminder of what I’ve been through and the generosity of people in my life and I’m really quite attached to all of them.”

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