How to create a village for hospital patients (or, the Ilana Massi story)

February 23, 2015 | by Tami Dennis

Ilana Massi and her supporters City of Hope patient Ilana Massi has created a village of supporters, one that gives her a "collective hug" when she needs it.

Don’t know what to take, or send, that friend of yours in the hospital? Try a paper plate — filled not with cookies or sweets, but an image of yourself.

Ilana Massi, currently undergoing treatment at City of Hope for acute myeloid leukemia, can vouch for the power of such a gift. She’s surrounded herself with paper plate images of her family, friends, co-workers, even a few pets.

“You wake up in the middle of the night, and you look around —  and you really feel like your support group is giving you a collective hug,” Massi said recently from her room at City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital, only a few days after undergoing a hematopoietic stem cell transplant at City of Hope.

For Massi, the collective hug began when she was in the intensive care unit of another hospital for five weeks. “Some of my friends came to visit, and I didn’t even know they were there — I was too sick to receive visitors,” she says.

But there were plates in the waiting room, and a marker, and soon Massi had a small village at her bedside.

That village grew when she came to City of Hope. One wall of her room is now filled with images of co-workers created during a special breakout session at an otherwise routine conference.

“It’s been very helpful to me,” Massi said of her uniquely personal collection.

A village that keeps giving

Creating the village has helped her family as well. “We have surrounded her with love and support through these hard times,” her son Rob Massi said. “Seeing her smile with her room decorated, brings a smile to our faces as well, and fills her up with love and support she needs.”

Massi thinks more people should create a village, especially if they’re hospitalized far from home, with few family and friends in the area — and especially if they’re hospitalized for weeks on end.

Further, the village is a welcoming one, adding members at a steady rate. “It makes a great conversation piece for whoever comes in the room,” said Massi, who has been at City of Hope since Dec. 2, with several weeks left before she can venture home. “People just stop in their tracks and say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

How to create a village of your own

If Massi’s display takes off for other patients and in other hospitals, the conversation-starter benefits might fade, but the collective hugs — and the power they provide — will grow.

So next time you visit a hospitalized friend or loved one, take along a plate or, better yet, a stack of plates so the next visitor can become part of the village.

But take some tape too. Nurses frown on thumbtacks.

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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