We have all experienced places that are stressful – airports and hospitals are notorious. Crowded, unfamiliar mazes, these places may be suffused with unpleasant smells and lots of noise, and devoid of pleasant views and daylight – all potent triggers of the stress response. Since stress can make you sick, this is particularly problematic in the case of hospitals.

When I developed inflammatory arthritis and underwent tests in the hospital, the hallways looked and felt very different from wheelchair view than when I was the one in the white coat pushing the wheelchair. I felt vulnerable. The fluorescent ceiling lights hurt my eyes, and the knee biopsy that I had undergone was surprisingly painful. I was determined to return for more tests and therapy, but then my mother died after a long battle with breast cancer. The last thing I could imagine was going back into a hospital environment.

Finding Peace

Instead I went to Crete, where I was bathed in sunlight rather than harsh fluorescent lights. Wheelchair rides gave way to pleasant strolls. And instead of loud, unpleasant hospital sounds and smells, I listened to the waves on the shore and inhaled the sweet scent of jasmine.

When I explored the hill above the village, I came upon the ruins of a Temple to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. Here, 2,500 years ago, people came to be healed with music, sleep, dreams, prayer, exercise, diet, support of friends and beautiful views. I spent hours at the site, watching the seagulls circling far below and listening to the sheep grazing the rocky cliffs.

By the time I left the island, only 10 days later, I was on my way to healing. At home in Washington, D.C., I re-created a little bit of Crete: a place for contemplation overlooking my garden with jasmine, gardenia and other fragrances that remind me of Greece.

I still take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs when I need to, but I have maintained my health.