From the archives (1) Bedside Manners


Bob’s bedside table (an example) Zoom in to see what he’s reading

So I’m visiting John in hospital and it’s just as well I didn’t come the day before, he says, because he was in a world of pain. Knee operations are like that. Hospital rooms evoke all kinds of memories, most of them not very pleasant, even a private room with a TV, telephone and a view of the painless world.

John was telling how his daughter phoned on his world of pain day to see how he was. The phone, on the bedside table, just out of reach, rang and rang. Somebody had moved the bedside table so they could set up the contraption that monitors one’s vitals.

There’s a small fortune to be made for someone who invents and promotes a bedside cabinet suited to the largely bed-ridden. It may well be that someone already owns the patents or has actually produced a prototype. They would go well in hospitals. The standard hospital brand tends to be a metal box on castors, usually with two (lockable) drawers and a cupboard to store your clothes, shoes and toiletries.

What is really needed, if you happen to be supine in bed and unable to roll over and reach out, is a bedside table that will come to you. I’m not an inventor, designer or cabinet maker, but I envisage the patient with a remote control pressing ‘turn left’ and with a barely perceptible whir, the bedside table obediently turns so it is facing the bed. The patient presses ‘rise” and the table rises, until the patient presses ‘stop’. ‘Open top drawer’, and the top drawer slides open, to offer an array of things one might need:  reading glasses, hearing aids, wallet, mobile phone, private medical insurance card.

Those of you quick on the uptake will immediately see the broader commercial opportunities of such a user-friendly bedside table. The home model would have a built in power board for mobile phone, e-reader, MP3 player or whatever gadget you keep in the bedside cabinet that might require recharging. Ahem.

At this stage of musing it is important to note the debunking of the myth that one risks brain cancer by keeping a mobile phone next to the bed.  The ABC’s Catalyst program is under attack for a program this week linking Wi-Fi and mobile phone use with brain cancer. According to the Australian government’s radiation safety agency ARPANSA, there is “no established evidence” that low levels of radiofrequency radiation from these devices cause health effects. The Conversation, an excellent source of analysis by academics and journalists, asked experts for their opinions.

If you search ‘bedside table’ you will find hundreds of designs (and prices) but nearly all follow the basic principle of a night-stand – a vertical cabinet with two or three drawers or two drawers and a cupboard. Once you’re in bed, only the top drawer is easily reachable and of course every time you lean over to look for something, there’s a risk you will knock something off the top (where many of us keep things like books, reading glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, a glass of water, e-reader, wallet, and so on – not unlike the illustration above.

The smart bedside table would have a tissue dispenser built in to the side (also touch of a button) to free up space on the top of the cabinet. Bedside tables (the typical bedroom suite comes with two), are not designed with age groups in mind.

The 18-35 groups could get by with a wooden chair, on which to place current reading (e.g. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, On the Road by Jack Kerouac), and the essential accoutrements of the young and impulsive.

The 36-49 groups used to favour clock radios so they could get up with the lark listening to classic FM. These days it is likely to be a smart phone alarm and an MP3 player programmed to play your early morning playlist. Books may include: The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Povey or conversely, Summer on a Fat Pig Farm by Matthew Evans.

We elders need a lot of space on the table top. There’s the aforementioned hearing aids, a glass of water (to drink), a glass of water (for our teeth), one or even two of those Monday to Sunday prescription boxes so you don’t forget to take what the doctor ordered. There’s often a torch so those of us with cataracts don’t walk into walls or doors.

The over-65 top drawer is likely to contain a plastic folder with five or six prescriptions repeats, boxes of medications, tubes of ointment for various aches and pains and itches, several old watches, cufflinks (who wears cufflinks?), pebbles, feathers and shells collected from the last beach walk, a Swiss army knife, a pedometer with a flat battery, hearing aid batteries, a scattering of coins, a few buttons that ought to be in the button tin, the thumb splint from last time you had a bout of tendonitis, a well out of date asthma puffer, a well-thumbed copy of Meditations for Men Who Do Too Much, five bookmarks and a card with all your pins and passwords disguised as telephone numbers.

How are we doing so far?

The second drawer of your typical bedside table might be the place you keep bulkier objects like a wheat bag (put in microwave for 40 seconds and apply to aching body part), the leather writing compendium a well-meaning friend gave you for your 21st birthday and which you cannot bear to throw away, even though it is a mid-20thst century curio containing five old address books and a Valentine from 1974.

The bottom drawer is where you should keep a pouch containing important personal papers so you can grab it and run if there is a fire.

If your bedside table has a bottom drawer or a cupboard, you could try a psychological experiment:  Every Sunday night, list everything that has happened in the news this week that you don’t want to think about and lock it away.

A year later you can read these 52 pages: Cardinal Pell. Who was he again? Oh, the asylum seeker babies. The Hague ruled on that, didn’t they? Anyway, they all went live in New Zealand.

A cluttered bedside table can be a trigger for allergens. At least once a month you should throw everything on the bed and give the cabinet a jolly good clean. Then put back less stuff. Go on, you can do it – who needs two watches that don’t work, an empty floss container or a tube of Dencorub with a 2009 use by date?

Some of you might wonder why I didn’t write about asylum seeker babies or Tim Minchin’s song about the cardinal, or that proposal by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – (journalist Paul Syvret called it a ‘brain fart’) – to turn age pension payments into a loan, repayable on the sale of the pensioners’ home.

As you can clearly see, especially if you zoom to 200% and examine the photo above, I had other things on my mind.


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