Artist Fay Ballard is leading a weekly creative workshop with dialysis patients at Hammersmith Hospital. She is writing a weekly blog in response to her experiences.
I noticed the patient in bed next to Olive was reading and looked so much better. Over the last few months, agonising pain had contorted her body, and she’d cried out for help. Relief came when she slept under the covers. Maura, the Head Nurse, thought she would be interested in making art. I introduced myself to Deborah and we hit it off immediately.
She’d played truant at school in order to spend the day visiting Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum and as many museums and galleries as she could. She’d loved to walk around London absorbing its history. An avid reader, she spoke about the joy of holding a book, of smelling the aged paper of old novels, and reading classic and contemporary literature. When she worked as youth worker with anti-social kids, Deborah had incorporated arts activities into her projects. Yes, she knew the importance of creativity and would love to make art. The loss of control in her hands meant I’d need to help with practical tasks and we discussed a range of possibilities, aware of her former dress making skills, and agreed to start with work about the staff on the ward. A sense of play, of fun was crucial, and we’d let the work take us on a journey. ‘Perhaps Olive would like to join in?’, Deborah wondered. I went off to take photographs of the ward staff to enable us to begin next week – the nurses, doctors, cleaners and drivers.
Olive was curious and had heard us chuckling. I described our plan much to her amusement and then we talked about our internal emotional lives. She’d been busy completing a word puzzle given by her daughter and now needed to rest. On several occasions in the past, Olive had looked after me, suggesting I drink some water or explaining where to find the kitchen to refill my bottle. Today was no exception as she assessed the recent wound on my leg and thought it was still swollen. We checked the sore together and she thought some fluid still lingered.
Michael and I enjoyed a long conversation but he didn’t feel up to painting. His stomach was causing discomfort and he found difficulty sleeping at night. We talked about St Petersburg which he’d visited four years ago and where I’d be going in a fortnight. I’d visited in 1984 and we compared notes. He described the dramatic layout of the City designed by Peter the Great which enabled royal visitors to arrive by boat at his palace in the centre of town, the ornate churches without any seating, the cavernous Hermitage with the Peter de Hooch paintings, and the grey apartment blocks lining the suburbs. In 1985, the churches were shut and I’d found a pet market on the edge of town selling thousands of small caged birds heaped up high, ferocious-looking coypus resembling giant rats, and small rodents stuffed inside the pockets of men in large overcoats.
Irving had been poorly with an infection and arrived on the ward later than usual. I’d read Robert Browning’s poem on Caliban he’d mentioned last week and we discussed the challenge of Darwinian thinking on Christianity in the Victorian age.
Cheryl was flat out, fast asleep for the entire morning. Her study after Morandi would have to wait.