Breathing New Life into the Art of Healing
Some mothers come to the hospital weeks and even months before their baby’s due date. Hearing the whoosh of the baby’s heart beat from the fetal heart monitor can be welcome news that everything is OK. It also serves as a continuous reminder of why they are here. “A lot of people – before I came to the hospital – said, ‘You really have to go to the hospital for two months?’” says AuraBelle “Belle” Laskey. “And I said, ‘Where would you be – I’m sorry (fighting back tears) - if the doctor tells you that you have a 50 percent chance of losing your babies after 24 weeks. There was no thought to it.” Belle sits among a table of three other expecting mothers, telling her story as she slides shiny pink beads onto a brass wire. “I’m having identical twin girls and they are monoamniotic, which means they share one sack. It is rare. Only one percent of identical twins share a sack.”
Making two dainty pink bracelets for her daughters, Aessiah and Aurbany, whose ultrasound images are taped to her hospital refrigerator, Belle is able to take her mind off the heart monitors and onto her jewelry design. She has scheduled her 30-minute break from continuous monitoring for the art cart – a time patients on the Peggy V. Helmerich Women’s Health Center high-risk floor gather with an artist to make jewelry and crafts. It is possible through a program called Art of Healing. For a few moments, Belle doesn’t have to think about her babies’ movement, heart rates and if their umbilical cords might tangle. It gives her time to unwind and recharge. “I try to be patient and content,” she says of spending more than 20 hours a day in her hospital bed. “The nurses are surprised that I’m so patient, because I’m in that bed so much, but what else can you do? This is where I have to be.”
“These women have absolutely no outlet,” shares Margee Aycock, an artist and member of the Art of Healing team since the conception of the program in 2002. “With all the studies they’ve done on how a mom going through stressful times and depression can affect the infant and on into adult life, I just really thought it was important that there is some sort of outlet.” Margee wheels her art cart onto the high-risk floor every Monday and Wednesday at 1:30 in the afternoon. She often walks into the room to familiar faces, as mothers are hospitalized several weeks to months during their pregnancies. They schedule ultrasounds and breaks from monitoring and bed rest around this valuable time. “It is a job where everybody likes to be here. They have very fond memories of this place. They tell me, ‘You coming is the only thing I look forward to all week.’”
A lifelong artist, Margee says art revitalizes her spirit. “Something about art feeds my soul, brings me happiness and relieves my stress.” Not only does she love what she does, Margee has countless stories of the impact this program has had on patients. “I have seen how it has calmed patients - reduced their anxiety and pain.” When budgets for the program are tight, Margee has even volunteered her time, knowing what it means to the patients.
History of Art of Healing
Originally a gift from the James D. Harvey Foundation at Hillcrest, Art of Healing began with a small committee of interested employees, physicians and senior staff in partnership with the Art & Humanities Council of Tulsa (AHHA). “AHHA has provided Hillcrest Medical Center with trained artists and musicians that serve our patients and family members by incorporating the arts into their health care,” explains Art of Healing committee leader and Administrative Director of Cardiovascular Services at Oklahoma Heart Institute, Nat Torkelson, MS, RN. “At its peak, we had a program coordinator, several artists-in-residence who served clinical areas in the hospital, as well as numerous visual arts activities in the hospital throughout the year.” Nat says it would not be uncommon to walk into the lobby of the hospital and hear the strumming of a harp or catch a dance performance or poetry reading. There were even occasional care-for-the caregiver sessions for staff – one of which was called a drumming circle that served as stress relief.
“The idea behind the inclusion of the arts in the hospital, a nation-wide movement to enhance the patient care experience, is to lift spirits, reduce boredom and lessen anxiety; studies have even shown that integrating art into the care of the patient can reduce the need for pain medication,” Nat adds.
Studies on Arts as Healing
The arts are healing, research has found. From recovering from disease, to reducing stress, anxiety and even the need for less pain medication, music, painting and creating art have both mental and physical benefits. For example, music may be one of the first arts we are introduced to as a baby listening to nursery rhymes. It is also one of the last things some experts believe those with Alzheimer’s disease let go of when severe memory loss sets in. When we sing, researchers say, a natural pain-killer substance is released. Singing also builds trust and bonding by releasing hormones. From a molecular level, just listening to music boosts our immune system.
“I truly believe that integrating the arts into a patient’s hospitalization is a unique way to enhance the care we offer our patients and families at Hillcrest,” Nat shares. “Hearing and reading comments from patients that the artists serve are compelling reminders of how important this ‘little program’ has been to the patients that have been touched.”
Some of those comments include:
“This program is a very effective and intriguing way for families to cope with the stressful waiting of surgery. It was a great escape from our thoughts and concerns about our dad’s procedures. Thanks!”
From a Kaiser Rehabilitation Center therapist: “This is the most this patient has spoken since he came here.”
“This is the best thing that has happened to me while in the hospital. This raised my spirits – I have been so depressed.”
Revitalization of Art of Healing
Nat says Art of Healing is not only close to her heart with more than 40 years of nursing experience at Hillcrest, it is part of who she is. “I grew up in a family in which music was a big part of our lives,” she says. Her mother was a professional pianist and organist, her father played both as well as the accordion. Nat chose the violin, while her sisters played cello and piano. “My mother spent her life volunteering and would tote us along to the nursing home to visit shut-ins and play music for them. I still recall seeing faces light up; some residents would get up and dance or in their chairs. I saw how music would lift their spirits.” The connection to the arts from her childhood has stayed with Nat throughout her life and fuels her passion behind not only keeping Art of Healing at Hillcrest, but ensuring its prosperity. “I would love to see us get back to the level we were headed 10 years ago.”
As part of her vision, “special activities planned monthly, artists in several locations every week, new patient populations served such as oncology patients who are in isolation for long periods of time undergoing treatment,” Nat would also like to bring the program to heart failure clinic patients and others.
To fund that goal, Nat has enlisted the help of a committee consisting of physicians, nurse management and other Hillcrest employees to garner hospital-wide support and fundraising. Events have been held throughout the year including the sale of Art of Healing t-shirts and a popular sundae sale, with more planned this year. Total fundraising to date nears $10,000 from funds raised and matched by Hillcrest leadership. Plus, all money raised is a tax-deductible donation through the partnership with AHHA, a non-profit organization. “While this is wonderful, we are trying to at least double that amount for our artists to be able to serve patients and families in many areas throughout the hospital, and also provide music occasionally in our lobbies and waiting rooms,” Nat adds. “The opportunities are endless.”
Funding the program makes possible the days Belle gets to temporarily leave the confines of her hospital room and walk into the art room to talk, create and think about something other than the day-to-day survival of her unborn twins. “This is very therapeutic for me,” she shares.
Contributions to the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa may be designated to support the Art of Healing program at Hillcrest
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