Autoimmune Wellness Center

RA Guy Adventures of RA Guy

When you live with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis, going to all of your different health care appointments can easily feel like a full time job. And to make the situation even more complicated, everything is usually in a different place. You have to go one place to see your rheumatologist, another place to get physical therapy, another place to exercise, another place to get your lab work done, another place to see your psychologist, and so on, and so on.

As I commute from one place to another day after day, I often start to daydream. Wouldn’t it be nice to have all of these services in one place? After all, many of the biggest challenges that I encounter on a daily basis are often related to mobility issues.  And, if I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life continually getting the health care that I need, wouldn’t it be nice to do so in an environment that places more emphasis on the “care” part and less emphasis on the “medical” part?

The result would be sort of like an integrated health spa, a wellness center. This concept is not completely new, as it has already been applied to some children’s health centers, cancer treatment centers, assisted living centers, and outpatient services such as dialysis and infusions. Even though the needs of those of us who live with autoimmune disorders cover a wide expanse, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have such a place of our own? A place where a complete support team has already been established, where patients can choose from the wide range of different services that are available.


This is not the first time I have explored this idea. When I was in grad school, my thesis project was actually the design of a museum of prosthetic devices and mobility devices. I wanted to research the concepts of accessible/universal design, body augmentation, and physical movement. (Trust me, I had absolutely no idea how personal these issues would become just a few short years later, when RA entered my life.) I wanted to study the differences between a) buildings that incorporate ramps and other accessible elements into the actual design and primary circulation paths, and b) buildings that met accessibility requirements by merely adding a ramp to the rear entrance or off to the side. I wanted to learn as much as possible about Universal Design.

Design Inspiration

Shadow puppetry really fascinates me. Over the past decade, I have gone from seeing some of the most amazing shows ever that combine both human actors and puppet actors, to working with some digital shadow puppetry myself (as shown below.) I think there is something really exciting about being able to see something that you cannot actually see. You can see the shadow, but you can’t see the puppet…but in a way, you can see the puppet. Some shadow puppets are works of art in and of themselves, such as the ones from the country of Bali. Some shadow puppets are jointed; you can see tiny metal circles that mark the place where two limbs meet. The emphasis on movement–the beauty of these flat shapes coming alive as they float around the screen, is what I think makes me most interested in shadow theater.

Previous experiments with digital shadow puppetry.

What’s Included?

  • Floor 1: The “Waiting Room” Cafe – This is probably one of the aspects I would enjoy the most about such a center. A double-height, well lit space on the ground level which includes a coffee shop and lots of comfortable seating. You can drop by and meet a friend, or you could actually be waiting for an appointment in one of the many offices located in the building. Don’t suffer anymore through long waits in  boring, stuffy waiting rooms. Have a coffee or a glass of fresh-squeezed juice instead, while you read the latest news. How will you know when your doctor is ready for you? Simple. You’d receive a text message a few minutes ahead of time, asking you to please proceed to the appropriate office.
  • Floor 2: Advocacy Center – Meet a social worker, help raise awareness about the need to increase research funds, or join with others to advocate for laws which protect the rights of those living with autoimmune disorders and other disabilities.
  • Floor 3: Arts and Culture – Exhibit and performance spaces for artists and musicians in the autoimmune community, including a library of books, magazines, and other media items related to disability.
  • Floor 4: Therapy and Support – Attend your weekly session with your psychologist, or attend one of the many support groups that is held at this wellness center.
  • Floor 5: Body & Mind Spa – Massage therapy, Reiki therapy, Acupuncture, and so on. If you’re not familiar with some of these “alternative” therapies, stop on by and see what they are all about!
  • Floor 6: Medical Support Services – Do you need to get your blood drawn, have an X-ray or MRI taken, or get your monthly infusion? All of these services, and more, are conveniently located here.
  • Floor 7: Children’s Medical Center – Rheumatologists and other medical professionals dedicated especially to the care and treatment of young superheroes.
  • Floor 8: Adult’s Medical Center – Rheumatologists and other medical professionals dedicated especially to the care and treatment of adult superheroes.
  • Floor 9: The “Gym” – A “traditional” fitness center, but even better. Located on the same floor are physical therapists and occupational therapists. Get some exercise, or do your physical therapy. You might even want to invite your rheumatologist to stop by, so that he/she can see how well you are doing!
  • Floor 10: The “Patio” – All things water. A covered heated swimming pool that can become open-air on particularly nice days. Sauna. Jacuzzi. Hydrotherapy. This deck could even play host to Friday afternoon happy hours (with non-alcoholic options as well, of course.) Just like the chic sky pool bars in Los Angeles…but even more “exclusive”!

The “Ramp”

Along the lines of universal design, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a mid-rise building whose focal piece was a vertical circulation system that was comprised completely of accessible ramps. After tossing around ideas in my head for more that a year, I decided that it was time to finally put (digital) pen to paper. And what better place to incorporate this concept than an Autoimmune Wellness Center? There would still be the usual elevators and stairs, but I wanted to put such a ramp front and center.

Because then, the facade becomes all about movement. Movement of a person who is in a physical therapy session and who is actually walking up or down a ramp. Movement of a person who is walking between appointments, and who is motivated to take this “scenic route” instead of the elevator or the stairs. Movement of a medical person who is running down two floors to get a latest copy of a patient’s lab reports. Movement of a visitor who after drinking a coffee in the “waiting room” cafe, decides to walk up to the exhibit space on the third floor. Movement of all types.

All of the ramps are double-width. There will be no more backing up or waiting for someone else to pass, as there’s room for everyone. The landing on the end are more than just landings; they also serve as places to meet and talk. These spaces include wooden benches that can be used if you want to stop and rest, benches that do not interfere with the normal circulation that is taking place. If you want, you can just take a moment to meditate and clear your mind, while looking out over the surrounding city. Or, you can sit in the sun and read a book, as you wait for your next appointment.


The Theater of Movement

With the placement of clear, frosted, and illuminated walls of glass, movement within this space would become even more theatrical, even more beautiful, than it already is. This building is constantly animated by the three-dimensional and two-dimensional visual images of the people who are using the space. Our bodies might be seen as a shadow on the stage, or as a silhouette against the wall. And in those occasional moments when our selves become flat projections, just like the human actors in shadow puppet theater, the boundaries between our bodies and our crutches, canes, and wheelchairs will no longer be visible.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!