Th 143787

Crazy Quilt — Piecing together an office with a healing spirit

Feb. 1, 2004
Crazy quilt: an assemblage of different types of fabrics of irregular shapes and treasured objects attached firmly to a foundation piece to make a regular shape.

Crazy quilt: an assemblage of different types of fabrics of irregular shapes and treasured objects attached firmly to a foundation piece to make a regular shape. A spider in its web is usually found somewhere on the quilt.

A successful dental practice: an assemblage of different types of people of irregular shapes and treasured talents attached firmly to a foundation of excellence and service. A leader is usually found somewhere in the practice which she has produced.

When my mother gave me a cherished gift — a crazy quilt — that she had spent hundreds of hours creating during the same time I was designing my new office, two things were immediately obvious: the quilt had to be displayed, and it would serve as a visual model for what I was creating. In this article, I will share with you some of the process of creating a new space.

Dr. Betsy Disharoon in her new dental office, which used to be a U.S. Post Office building built in 1937.
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For 10 years, I had practiced in a cramped space in a poorly maintained building with an uncooperative landlord. A talented dental team had worked with me to create a practice that aimed at excellence, but the physical and atmospheric limitations seemed to hold back the flourishing of our best talents. The expiration of my lease forced the timing of a big move. My heart knew it was time, but the many challenges of finding a space, designing the specifications, and overseeing the construction and move were daunting.

The new space requirements were relatively easy to define: between 1,600 and 2,000 square feet in a visible, easily accessible location within three miles of my existing space at a reasonable lease rate. But why didn't the available spaces that met those requirements call out to me? Not until I found the one that moved me did I realize there were more requirements: light, height of the ceilings, character, and history of the building. These were requirements of the spirit. They were found in the old U.S. Post Office building built in 1937, vacated by the government in the late 1970s.

Like me, the building had not been able to flourish to its full potential during the past few years. Several businesses had occupied the space, but the building had suffered. In 2001, a new owner aimed at working with businesses that would share his vision of revitalizing our small downtown area by renovating the historic buildings. An opportunity to make a contribution toward that goal was an honor.

Here, at 19 Park Street, I found light through seven-foot windows, which helps even the shortest New England winter days be brighter. I found history — not only had the building served the town as a community landmark for postal services, but the structure was so sound it had served as a bomb shelter during the Cold War. The room that served as the vault still had the half-ton safe door hanging on its huge metal hinges when I occupied the space. I found spirit — the mahogany and marble in the lobby area combined with the openness and 14-foot ceilings invited one into a space for creativity and healing. I could feel the appropriate energy the first time I visited. My mind immediately started processing: Preserve the spirit of the building and overlay my own spirit to fully convert it into a warm, lively space in which my team and I could flourish. My patients would receive healing and maintain health.

My vision was forming, but carrying it out continued to be daunting. First on the "to do list" was to find a dental office designer/equipment specialist, a contractor, a banker, and an interior designer. Again, I listed my requirements and then proceeded to conduct interview after interview. Not until I found professionals with a compatible spirit did I formalize our relationship.

My dental supplier provided an office designer/equipment specialist with many years of experience producing offices that had become successful working spaces. He was generous with his knowledge and contacts. His referring dentists invited me to their offices to see the space and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of every nook and cranny. I accepted bids from five contractors, but the final choice was determined by two things — this contractor had worked many jobs with the office designer, but more importantly, he was a quiet man whose integrity shone through with very little verbiage.

The banker was probably the exception to my rule of spiritual matching requirements. My spirit-matching banker could only offer a much higher rate than my existing bank with which I had a long but shallow history. So did I sell out when I chose the lower rate to stay with my old bank instead of moving over to the one represented by the woman with a congenial spirit? I cannot answer that question, other than to say the banker I used worked hard to provide many quality services to me at the lowest rate. And he did bring his daughter to meet "the woman professional" he had been working with to provide her with another female role model.

Now the finances were in place; the floor plans were laid out; the equipment was selected; and working and movement patterns were established. The entire skeleton was assembled but it needed to be fleshed out. The interior design would put the skin on; the beauty of the spirit must now be expressed. As all wise women know, beauty is nothing if it does not function well. This caveat led me to two complementary resources: an interior designer and a Feng Shui consultant.

The designer, Connie, specialized in medical and dental facilities, bringing much knowledge about materials, surfaces, durability, sources, and prices. From experience, I chose not to carpet the operatories to avoid frequent professional cleanings. Connie helped me find high-quality linoleum that was both durable and easy to clean. And which floor coverings were appropriate for high-traffic areas? We chose commercial carpet for its acoustic quality, warmth, and low maintenance. The esthetic choices for materials were almost endless and so creatively stimulating.

Connie also tolerated my strong opinions about decorating the space — opinions that were not only strong, but unbounded, overwhelming, and unfocused. I had a feeling about what I wanted to represent physically and induce in others, but I did not have a specific vision of how to do it! I had pieces here and there like an unassembled crazy quilt that I could not visualize how to assemble.

That's when Mary, the Feng Shui specialist, came in. In just two meetings, Mary captured all of my loose ends and brought them into focus. Color, natural elements, and textures were amalgamated to express exactly what I was after.

Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese art of placement. By arranging furniture, plants, utensils, and accessories in favorable locations in the home, office, or garden, positive energy will be maximized to improve health, happiness, and prosperity.

A practical example is the placement of my desk. The private office is a small space with two doorways, limiting the desk placement to only one wall, with one door at my back and my face to the wall. Mary asked, "Do you believe you think and work your best while you look at the wall wondering when someone could come through the door and startle you?" But there was no other choice for the desk. The problems had to be addressed from another angle. Problem one was facing the wall. The simplest solution was to place a photo or painting on the wall with a long distance in it, such as a vista or landscape, to avoid the sense of being trapped or limited in one's thinking. My solution was to place a glass-covered opening in the wall just above head level to allow light to enter the space from another room, eliminating the sense of a solid wall. The second problem was sitting with my back to the door. The simple solution was to keep the door closed.

I have found these general suggestions to be helpful:

  • Use glass in doors as much as possible for light and energy to flow, avoiding stagnant energy.
  • Protect yourself from poison arrows in the form of angles, corners, and points by placement of plants to soften the lines or crystals to allow the energy to flow in many directions.
  • Keep bathroom doors shut. My dental team's bathroom is just off the business office. Keeping the door open would allow the money to "flow down the toilet." Often, bedrooms adjoin bathrooms. If you open your eyes in the morning only to see the toilet, what do you think your perspective for the day will be?
  • Place things that induce pleasant thoughts in your line of vision. Artwork in the operatories can be uplifting and awe-inspiring or warm, restful, and calming. Avoid having artwork that contains flowing water in the business office, causing the money to "flow through" and not stop. Quiet water is also restful for the patient areas.

Feng Shui is a complex tradition much too comprehensive to feel comfortable with the do-it-yourself approach. I paid my consultant only a few hundred dollars for many hours of her time and many gems of wisdom, making it very cost-effective. My lack of understanding dictated my following her instructions more often as an act of faith. She gave many guidelines regarding specific colors and elements (wood, water, metal, fire) to be used in very specific areas. She even offered guidelines about which compass direction I should face while working creatively or presenting a treatment plan. I cannot expound upon these concepts due to total lack of understanding of the complexities of Feng Shui.

All the time these professionals were helping to build the new space, my talented office team was enabling the dental practice to flourish. Each team member — with her own talents, skills, and wisdom — filled a crucial position in the workings of the practice itself, excluding the physical space. Take away the appointment book and computer from my business team and the adjustment would be shocking — they would still function magnificently. Even without scalers and curing lights my clinic team would assist and heal patients just with their listening and healing skills.

The expression of my spirit came to fruition vibrantly. I could not have done it alone. I needed a team. These human resources were chosen, gathered, milked, encouraged, compensated, and cherished for what they each enabled me to accomplish. Each professional I called upon gave me invaluable expertise. As general dentists, most of us cannot treat every case alone; we need our specialists with their expertise. Likewise, I greatly benefited by gleaning ideas from each member of the team.

There is an African proverb that says, "When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion." The team I united unfolded the healing spirit that I offer my patients every day in practice surroundings that support them, my team, and me. As the spider positioned in the web, I was connected in many directions to the world around me. The existing practice was fully functioning on one side of the web while the new space was taking form on the other. Each strand of the web touched a significant person and activity. As movement occurred along that strand, the vibrations produced communicated that activity to me. Women often avoid linear hierarchy management styles. I certainly feel more comfortable with the sense that my team surrounds me instead of "sits under me." I identify with a spider in her web creating strands joined in the center and fully aware of all movement occurring around her.

So here I sit, a spider in her woven web, as on the crazy quilt. The quilt hangs on the wall in the reception area. The colors are jewel tones; the textures range from velvety smooth to coarse and harsh; the pieces are irregular in shape; the embroidery lies across several pieces holding them together with such beauty; the borders are bound with colorful cord; and the foundation piece is strong. The construction and move were completed 16 months ago, but the quilt will continue to inspire me. To my mother, "Thank you."

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Dr. Betsy Disharoon in her new dental office, which used to be a U.S. Post Office building built in 1937.