Sep 25, 2017

Two by Two

Mom + child creating art together
Mom + child creating art together

Artists continue to be found in all corners of the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) campus. We wanted to share vignettes from a typical week.

On a recent Tuesday, we had two older sisters of a young in-patient at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital working gleefully (paint! clay!) with CHAP on the 9th floor. They had fun with us while their parents spent time speaking with medical staff about their sibling's prognosis.

On Wednesday we engaged a young woman being treated as an in-patient at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, who beaded two stunning necklaces for her friends. The design of the second necklace started in the Family Room, but the nurse had to ask the patient to return to her room for a medical procedure. Ten minutes before we were scheduled to leave, we walked down to her room – wire cutters and flat nose pliers in-hand – to get her across the finish line by adding clasps to her jewelry pieces.

Thursday, way up on the 13th floor of Kohler Pavilion in the Knight Cancer Institute's in-patient Adolescent + Young Adult Oncology program, two 20-something brothers - one a patient, the other a visitor - worked side by side beading. Periodically one would say something and they'd laugh together.

On Friday morning, two very sweet sisters with perfect braids were engrossed in making jewelry with CHAP outside of Pediatric Surgery on the 8th floor of Doernbecher Children's Hospital, while their parents waited anxiously for news of their sibiling's surgery.

On Friday afternoon, a family on the Pediatric Hematology + Oncology in-patient unit (10 South) covered the front of a cotton T-shirt with their hand prints. The teenage sister lovingly identified each family member's hand. Then she added an inspiring quote – a line from her brother's favorite song – on the back of the T-shirt with her great penmanship and a handy fabric marker. 

They come to us two by two. Brothers, sisters, friends, spouses, mother and child. This is our version of Noah's Ark. We are pleased to provide them with a little solace of art-making, wherever we encounter them. Thank you for making this work possible.


May 24, 2017

On Not Playing Favorites

Artwork created for a special birthday
Artwork created for a special birthday

Recently we learned that one of our patients was very ill. The kind of ill where there is nothing else to be done. CHAP has worked with this family over the years. The child holds a spot in our heart for many reasons - for his quiet nature, for his artistic talent.... We have fond memories of him painting a huge red flower years ago. It was featured in the last Art Show at the hospital. When the show came down, I gave the painting to his dad. He told me it was going to be hung in a prominent place in their living room. It made us happy knowing this.

Not long after learning that the child was terminally ill, CHAP found out that the child had a birthday coming up. Such a strange juxtaposition - to be anticipating a birthday while at the same time knowing that the end is near. The family told us the birthday was shared by a sibling as well. Wow. We offered to help them with preparations as it seemed likely they would still be in-patient.

Just a day or two before the planned birthday celebration, Maxine and I gave it our best effort to decorate the Play Room. We made a banner featuring the names of both siblings. The family, though typically very private, accepted our offer to help transform the Play Room into their party headquarters. Maxine made a huge and elaborate gold crown to place on the bulletin board. I wrote in my best cursive, "You are royalty," to keep with the theme the family had told us about. Just as Maxine was taping a lovely image of a tiered birthday cake to the child's door, another mom declared, "My son's birthday is on Sunday!"  

At this point, it was 4 pm on a Friday. The other child and his family were new to the unit, but also fantastic. We just couldn't deny him a little fanfare, too, in honor of his birthday. So Maxine and I dug our heels in and started focusing on the new boy. We did not want to be guilty of playing favorites. The minutes flew by and we were hustling. At 5 pm (when CHAP is usually starting to clean up), I laughed and said to Maxine, "Good thing we have a lot of years of art school between the two of us!"

With some scrambling and a little sweat on our brow, we got it done. All three children were fussed over. At 5:15 pm, Maxine and I did a version of Twister to get the huge crown - loaded with still-wet glitter glue and plastic gems - up and on to the bulletin board. It brought us a little closer indeed!

The following week, the Child Life Specialist, Susan, pulled me and Maxine aside. She told us that early that morning the child passed away. Our hearts went out to this dear family. Susan, in her grace, reminded us that the suffering is over for the child. The family was still sitting with the child in the room when we arrived on the floor at 12:30 pm. The beautiful birthday cake picture was still on the patient's door. A painting I created for the child weeks ago with a rainbow on it and "Hello, friend!" was still there too. Now there are two new signs on the door: "No Visitors" and "Please Do Not Disturb", in large black Sharpie. There's no gold paint or glitter glue involved. It's hard knowing that the patient has slipped away but that his body is still in there. Of all things, Super Heroes arrive on the floor so there is excitement in the hallway. The dichotomy is surreal. Three adults dressed up as various Super Heroes (Iron Man, Wonder Woman and Superman) visit each of the patients. His room is passed over with Susan effortlessly steering them accordingly. They give gifts and bring smiles to so many patients. Time keeps moving on the unit. The show goes on.

When I leave at 5:30 pm, the family is still sitting with their child. It is a solemn moment to pass that door. I give a quiet goodbye to them.

At 6:45 pm, Maxine sees what none of us wants to see. They are wheeling the child out of his room and off the floor. She tells me later that it's handled quickly and quietly with an expert level of discretion.  he is able to offer our sympathies to the father and give him a hug. Remarkably, the artwork goes home with the family. Maxine says the boy was whisked away in a bed with a canopy of crisp white sheets, like a boat sailing out to sea.  Like royalty.


Feb 23, 2017

Old and New

This summer marked CHAP's 10-year anniversary. It's a big milestone. When I stop to think about all the families we have worked with, it's staggering.

On a recent morning, I checked on my group of patients. I came to a certain room and as I explained what I was there for, the patient stopped me and said, "Remember me?  It's Jennifer*." The minute she said it, it all came flashing back. She looked so different. Thinner. Older. Older beyond her years. Just a few years ago, CHAP worked with this young lady over at the children's hospital. Now, she's a young adult and it took me by surprise to see her again. It was her voice that triggered my memory the most.

Jennifer did come & join me in the Family Room. She was so sweet and eager to do art. Instantly, her gaze was drawn to a familiar sight - a small Spirit House. It was perched on top of the refrigerator, right across the room from her.  I gathered colorful tissue paper and our special blend of water and Elmer's glue  If you get the ratios just right, it should resemble the consistency of milk. Jennifer got right to business, applying colors she liked + cutting little hearts out of the tissue paper. While she is hard at work, another patient enters the room. I have met this patient several times over the past few months. I am quite taken with her. She's so upbeat, fun and creative. Her name is Yvette*.  

The two women start talking. I find this to be an incredible pairing. Yvette is crafting another stunning necklace and Jennifer is slowly covering the plain cheesecloth surface with more pleasurable bursts of color. Yvette has this great style where she very thoughtfully selects her beads from one color palette and she she'll sneak in one random bead of a fully different color. This has become her signature move. The two artists could not be more different.  

Jennifer asks what kind of cancer Yvette is being treated for and how she found out she had cancer. It's such an unraveling. I will never forget a mom saying that when her young son was diagnosed it was "such an assault." I recall this phrase time & time again when I hear people speak of this moment. An assault. Yvette shares her story, freely. Jennifer tells her long and ongoing battle with cancer. There's no fairness to any of it.

The women are with me for an hour, perhaps more. When Yvette goes to leave, Jennifer says, "You are amazing and strong woman." Yvette receives this compliment with grace as she turns around and smiles., "I don't know it any other way."   

Jennifer says to me, "CHAP is great. You're like family!" While on FaceTime with her mom, she spins her camera around so that her mom can see me. A familiar face indeed. She thanks me for being there to make art with her daughter.  

Jennifer takes acrylic paint, a small canvas and some beads back to her room. We ran out of time, so she wants to be stocked up. Our art program returns in 1 week and those days are long for patients like Jennifer who are thirsty to do art, get out of their rooms and meet some of their amazing peers.

As I get ready to go, I pass Jennifer's nurse in the hallway. She remarks on Jennifer's energy before and after CHAP.  She said at the beginning of the morning, Jennifer was sullen and hard to communicate with. After being in the Family Room, the nurse could see such an improvement in Jennifer's energy. CHAP really enlivened her and improved her mood. What a pleasure to get that kind of support from the nursing staff. People are noticing the difference art can make. I was sure to give Yvette some credit, too, for helping make the experience so positive.

* Names have been changed to protect patient privacy 


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