By Cheryl Keenan
OAK HILL —
Stepping into The Appalachian Academy of Medicine, the offices of Dr. Hassan Amjad on Church Street in Oak Hill, isn’t like stepping into a typical (or stereotypical) doctor’s office. Actually, it’s not like stepping into any office.
The sensation is more like stepping into a dear grandmother’s living room. Comfortable furniture and rocking chairs, coffee tables, brightly colored walls and, most readily noticeable, a number of handmade quilts greet the visitor. The place gives one the sense of being at home, and that’s the way Amjad wants it.
When it came time to update his office, the doctor said he decided he wanted to present a place where patients would be comfortable.
“(In) a typical doctor’s office around the country, you have worn out furniture and out-of-date magazines. It is depressing. A doctor’s office in the United States is a cold, sterile place with lack of empathy. It should reflect something more than that,” Amjad said.
“You walk into a doctor’s office and you have enough worries. I resent the bureaucratic jungle. I don’t want my patients to feel that way, (that) they’re sitting in a prison camp.
“Your office should not look like a morgue or DMV, that painful hemorrhoid of American bureaucracy. You shouldn’t treat your patients like prisoners or numbers.”
Instead, a patient should feel welcome, he said.
“If we keep our channels to the brain open and communicating, we are less clumsy, have more control, fall less. You have more control on your body. When we exercise our brain function, just like we exercise our bodies, we’re doing healthy things for our brains.”
Toward that end, the doctor decided the quilts, some of which are nearly 100 years old, along with some more color on the walls beyond the traditional institutional tones, would help get across his message of comfort and peace and living life fully.
Quilts on couches and hanging as decorations, and walls bedecked in bright colors ranging from apricot (peace) to blithe (a blue which represents happiness) and from dewberry to fuschia don’t spring to mind when someone plans to visit the doctor.
“It gives you a different feeling,” Amjad, who also is a painter, said.
It makes you “feel like a human,” said Dorothy Andersen, a longtime patient. “It’s not a decorator’s office, but it’s comfortable.
“When you walk into an atmosphere like this you are more willing to speak to your neighbor, ask how you’re doing,” she said.
That’s just the kind of thing Amjad hoped to hear when he and his staff members Rebecca Bockarie and Crystal Williamson set out to renovate the offices.
“I’m not doing this for more money. I’m doing this for my patients,” he said, and then shared a story.
“I was in Williamsburg one time and in the physician’s office I saw the shell of a turtle. In a lot of the old physician’s offices, you’d see a turtle shell,” he said, adding that he indeed has a turtle shell in his Oak Hill office before explaining the significance.
“The turtle lives a long life and the doctor wishes a long healthy life for his patients.”
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“You should have a warm feeling, not just a sign that says ‘welcome.’ You should reflect what you want your patients to feel.”
He indirectly got the idea from some of his patients.
“I have several patients who are older and some of them quilt and they are just sharp as a button,” he said.
“People who do quilting, they don’t get Alzheimer’s. The piano teachers, the quilters... When you do things with your hands, intricate things, you’re keeping your brain sharp. You have to focus on orientation, spacing, color determination, the fine movements of your hands.
“A person doing quilting is exercising his brain. When we do complex tasks with our hands, using dexterity, you’re using your mind, your vision. It’s a complex cognitive function and when you exercise that, you are keeping your brain channels open.