She is usually sprite and upbeat, but on this day, that energy was not there. She sits down at the table and confides in us that she threw up her feeding tube yesterday and it was replaced with one that goes in her nose. She hates it and states, “It feels like you are gagging on something all the time.” She’s so sad and the heaviness is palpable.
Reluctantly, the girl, despite her discomfort, starts making a beaded keychain for her mother. A nurse checks the patient’s IV and gently says, “You’re doing a good job. I know you don’t like the feeding tube, but you need the nutrition. It’s just what we need to do at this point in your treatment. Let’s just make the best of it.”
For a moment, we all just sit around with huge, sad eyes. And then it occurs to me, “You know, this might call for some paint throwing. If you’re feeling a little angry about this feeding tube, do you want to get some of that anger out?” The girl eagerly responds, “Yes, I want to get angry.”
Her therapist overhears the little girl and offers to get a feeding tube that she has for the purpose of ‘medical play.’
We set up a huge ‘tarp’ of white bed sheets taped to the Playroom floor. A CHAP art teacher selects one long white scarf and one toddler T-shirt (for the patient’s younger sibling). No sooner are the two pieces placed on the backdrop does the little girl have her paintbrush in the purple fabric paint and starts whipping the brush around. The flexible feeding tube is laid right on the tarp and it is ready for a beating. One of CHAP’s art teachers hands her a huge bottle of acrylic paint to pummel the tube with. It gets squirted with fabric paint.
Our artist is standing up and smiling now. She asks us to go get her mom so she can see what she is up to. Our artist sits down on the tarp and paints her feet and hands. We just keep asking her what color she wants next . She paints everything within reach.
It’s magic. The whole tenor of the afternoon shifted.
Paint is dripped, thrown, squirted and splattered. At one point, the 10-year old comments that her stomach hurts, but she keeps on working. I don’t know how long this session lasted, but it seemed like a long time.
When the flurry comes to an end, I gently wash the girl’s feet in a green hospital-issued basin. We start to clean up. The paint has leaked through the sheets and the floor is undeniably a mess. The little girl offers to help us clean up. We both exclaim, “No!” as we spend the next 30 minutes on our hands & knees wiping up the floor and adjacent surfaces.
The young artist wants the bed sheet, too, so we tape it up on the wall to dry. The feeding tube is lost in the chaos of colorful paint. I help carry the T-shirt down to the patient’s room. I place it on the windowsill and I say to the girl before I exit the room, “I will remember this day forever.”
Later when we are ready to leave the floor, the nurse says to us ,“Wow. That was amazing. Thank you. We all saw it happen. We saw the story change right in front of our eyes.”
Children's Healing Art Project (CHAP)
A huge THANK YOU to our donors for bringing the healing power of art to children and families! As one grateful mother expressed, “After experiencing CHAP at [the hospital], we went to the art studio several times. We were inspired to create our own sequin-covered tray, a gift for my husband from [his children]. They used their handprints and filled in around them. The accompanying photo is the result, a one-of-a-kind serving tray. Thank you for the inspiration and all you do to bless our children.”
In 2013, CHAP (Children’s Healing Art Project) provided 8,500 unique art experiences, a 30% increase over 2012. We are grateful for your support as it provides art experiences and supplies to children and families dealing with disease, disability or loss. CHAP’s teaching artists, along with volunteers, lead art adventures in hospitals, studio ‘Art Clubs’ and in outreach opportunities. Known for our sequins, glitter and paint, CHAP provides a creative space for an individual to express oneself without the limitation of a diagnosis or disability.
For those of you who live in the Portland, Oregon area, please join us for a Night of Healing Art on Friday, March 28, Tiny’s MLK Coffee (2031 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd) from 6-8 pm. The CHAP-art will be displayed for the month of March and is for sale. CHAP will provide an art activity for all who attend the closing reception.
For the past year, CHAP has been working with the Adolescent & Young Adult (AYA) oncology program at Knight Cancer Institute. The AYA patients are between the ages of 15 - 39.
I find that there are no perfect words or ways to bring comfort to folks when they are experiencing pain and struggle. The best option for me is to provide my patients with an ear for genuine listening. Sometimes just a few words are expressed; sometimes it's simply facial expressions. And sometimes that is all that needs to happen to make a connection.
My co-art teacher had taken several 'room service' bead requests at one of our partner hospitals and I was making some room deliveries. My co-art teacher told me that I would really like the energy of the woman in room XYZ. When I opened the door, this wonderful woman was sitting in a chair next to her bed. Her name is “Tess” and she greeted me with a warm, crooked smile.
Tess shared with me that none of her family lived nearby the hospital and she was not very happy to be there as you can imagine. She had previously found out that she had cancer, but was treated and was in remission. More recently, Tess started feeling terrible and grumpy again. Her fears were made into reality when the doctors told her that her cancer was back, and this time she needed a bone marrow transplant. While Tess was sharing her story with me, she was altering her house slippers. She said everything [in her life] was just uncomfortable right now; her house slippers, her pants were too tight, just everything.
Tess and I spent some time conversing and then I showed her the colorful plate of beads that I had to offer and her eyes lit up. She was happy to have a distraction. I told her that we would be back to check on her and that she could call for us anytime she needed more supplies. She looked up at me and thanked me. As I walked toward the door, she sweetly said, “I am hopeful that this hospital will get the cancer out”. I looked at her and said, “me too”.
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