These Outdoor Norwegian Hospitals Will Blow Your Mind

by Clint Edwards
Originally Published: 

Confession: the most time I’ve ever spent in a hospital was after the birth of my children. We have three of them, and I spent two to three nights with each child, sleeping on this half bench thing next to the window that might as well have been the width of a French fry, while my wife recovered.

There was always a window in the room, but it wouldn’t open and it was usually facing another part of the hospital, or looking out on the freeway. Not a tree within sight. When my wife crawled out of bed for the first time after her first cesarean, I helped her get to the window. She looked out and said, “Wow… a brick wall. Isn’t that beautiful.”

With our third child, I stepped out for a walk, hoping for a courtyard, or something, but ended up walking next to a busy street trying to get fresh air. Hospitals are wonderful places. They have saved many lives, but they aren’t exactly the most comfortable or nature-conscious places.

At least not in America, anyway.

Every time I have spent more than a few hours in a hospital, I have noticed how clean it was, but I’ve also felt a strong urge to leave as quickly as possible because the lights are artificial and bright, and everything is white and sterile but still, somehow, smells funny.

After reading about this Scandinavian hospital, however, I’m really wishing we’d had our children in Norway.

According to a recent article in Treehugger, “[Norway’s] two largest hospitals, with the help of the Friluftssykehuset Foundation charity, have created Outdoor Care Retreats known as friluftssykehuset…. The term friluftssykehuset comes from the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv – the importance of spending time in nature – combined with the word for hospital, sykehus.”

Spending time in nature has been proven to have medical benefits, improving mood and optimism, both of which can benefit recovery, so an outdoor hospital just seems natural, right?

Jennifer Guay writing for Apolitical explains that unlike most of the hospitals in the city, Oslo University Hospital is close to nature. Maren Østvold Lindheim, a child psychologist, would often take patients into the woods. It went on for years, mostly just bringing a few children at time who were well enough to make the journey. Eventually, the hospital decided to create a dedicated space that was easily accessible for patents to spend their recovery time in nature.

And boom! Friluftssykehuset was born!

This place makes me want to visit the hospital. The 375-square foot wooden spaces bring to mind tree houses. It’s tucked away, in the trees, and away from the main hospital campus, so rather than patients feeling like they are stuck in some white artificial place, can feel like they are recovering in a log cabin. It has wooden ramps that are wheelchair accessible. It has skylights and fire pits and windows that open so patients can smell the fresh air.

During the day, the outdoor care retreat is dominated by recovering children. If they feel up to it, they can go fishing, hangout around a campfire, ride in a canoe, or just sit and enjoy nature. In the evening it’s open to adult patients.

Maren Østvold Lindheim, a child psychologist who works in the Oslo Hospital’s Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, had this to say about the outdoor care retreats, “Nature provides spontaneous joy and helps patients relax. Being in natural surroundings brings them a renewed calm that they can bring back with them into the hospital. In this sense, the Outdoor Care Retreat helps motivate patients to get through treatment and contribute to better disease management.”

Well… yeah!

Friluftssykehuset is in line with the overall Scandinavian culture. They are huge on promoting mind-body-nature connections, particularly when it comes to raising children. Outdoor time is serious, come rain, snow, or shine. In Scandinavian countries, it’s common practice to leave babies slumbering outside in their flat-bottomed prams, appropriately bundled against inclement weather. There’s a popular Norwegian saying that goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Parents make sure their kids play outside everyday.

Connection to the natural environment is an important cultural value and coming home dirty signals a day of exploring, risk-taking, and fun. The school system supports this as well. I live in Oregon, and when the weather is bad, the school holds indoor recess so kids don’t get sick playing in the rain. As explained in this Scary Mommy article, children in a Swedish or Danish school are expected to provide an extra set of all weather “school clothes” that stay at the school so that they can go outside regardless of the weather. The understanding is that outdoor time is a key component of education and overall health, regardless of the temperature.

So…when do we get this sort of thing in the US? When can we get a friluftssykehuset maternity ward?

According to Treehuger, The Friluftssykehuset Foundation plans to build more Outdoor Care Retreats near hospitals in Norway and abroad. Sadly, however, they haven’t issued any plans to build in the United States. But I’m optimistic that this idea catches on so, because heaven forbid I need to spend time in the hospital, I want to do it next to a campfire.

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