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.
Back from holiday, I entered the Auchi Ward and was greeted warmly by Maura, the head nurse, busy with colleagues. I passed sleeping Michael and found Olive completing a word puzzle. ‘Welcome back and how are you?’ Olive smiled. We exchanged news about her grandson’s christening and my travels. So much to discuss.
Deborah was reading and welcomed me back. ‘Would she like to continue with the collage?’ ‘Yes, why not, but could you buy me a cappuccino with chocolate and two demerara sugars from Costa before we start please?’
Returning with coffee in hand, I passed Irving who was lying peacefully in bed reading. He greeted me warmly and we spoke briefly about my Russian trip. I wanted to talk to him about the Gulag and about Russian history. We agreed to find more time after my session with Deborah.
Fetching the art trolley, I was delighted to see Betty, a former patient of Peters Ward, listening to her iPhone in bed. Betty had explained how she used every dialysis session to make up her face. She lay surrounded by make-up and a large cerise hand mirror. She’d been moved to the Auchi Ward and here she was, her face made up beautifully with bright pink eye shadow and lipstick. Since our last conversation, Betty had suffered a traumatic life-threatening condition but had pulled through, ‘I nearly died but God has given me a second chance’, she reflected. Then she talked movingly about family members and friends who’d perished in the Grenfell fire. Betty had lived all her life next to the Tower. The Tower was her community.
Deborah and I set to work on the collage which we’d started last time, skimming Metro and The Evening Standard for suitable images to cut and paste. The colour scanned portraits of the Ward staff lay on the bed table, awaiting new bodies and accessories. A few of the nurses were curious as newsprint went flying and we revealed some of the comic images, much to their amusement and laughter. ‘Humour is vital’, observed Deborah, and we continued working until lunchtime. Discarded cuttings were thrown away and selected ones filed. The work-in-progress was ready for next week.
As I made my exit, aware that there hadn’t been time to discuss the Gulag with Irving, I saw Michael awake and we talked about my travels and the recurrent problems he was having with his health. He seemed a bit low but collected his thoughts and exclaimed: ‘Next week, let’s do something!’