October 24, 2022

Grateful for greenery

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At just 23-years-old, Ria O’Hanlan found herself in hospital fighting for her life.

The occupational therapy student went from experiencing back pain, to collapsing on the floor and being diagnosed with an aortic aneurism, her lungs filled with blood.

My dad had the same thing 15 years ago and he passed away,” she says. “I had a gut feeling that this is what it was.”

Admitted to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, attempts to insert a stent and then a coil were unsuccessful. The next step was to replace the aorta, a big surgery that was risky when Ria was so ill and weak.

There was no option, so I had to go ahead,” she says. “It was quite scary but then I was on the road to recovery.”

The medical emergency took place in April 2021 while Ria, from Cork in Ireland, was studying for her bachelor’s degree at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.

However, Ria’s recovery was set-back when she developed pneumonia while still in hospital. She was placed in an induced coma and given antibiotics, which took some time to take effect.

After coming out of the coma, and while lying in the Intensive Treatment Unit , which has no natural light, Ria became disorientated. She had no sense of time, or even whether it was day or night. COVID protocols meant that visits were restricted, leaving her feeling even more isolated.

Garden therapy

The game-changer came with a visit to the hospital garden, at the insistence of one of the nurses.

At first I wasn’t keen on the idea because everyone in the ward was so busy, and I initially required a ventilator and nursing staff to help me,” she says. “But the garden was such a different environment. I was able to relax and switch off.

“Even just even feeling the air, and the warmth of the sun, brought me back to myself and reminded me that I was not just a sick patient. and that there was a world outside of the hospital.”

Being outdoors also meant she could spend time with friends who came to visit.

This made a world of difference,” she says.

As Ria improved, her mother was able to take her out into the garden in a wheelchair, where the benefits of nature continued to aid her recovery.

After three months in hospital, Ria was finally discharged for a stint at her student flat before going home to convalesce in Ireland for seven months.

“I was really lucky to be in such a great hospital,” she says.

Inspiration for a dissertation

Now back in Edinburgh, Ria is in her final year of studies and has chosen to do her dissertation on the link between an ICU garden and connecting critically ill patients with their sense of self.

This link is so important when you are sick and have no control over what is happening to you,” she says.

Ria has made a full recovery but admits that although she feels great now, it has been a lot to deal with.

This experience has made me really grateful for the little things in life like being out in nature and making the most of everything.” she says.

Do you have a story to share?

If your recovery has benefitted from therapeutic outdoor activities or connecting with nature, we’d love to hear your story.