Artist with feeding tube
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.”