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.
Maura, the head nurse, handed over a large bag of Christmas art and craft materials which she’d bought to make decorations. What an Aladdin’s cave of riches: sparkly papers and card, smiling Santas and reindeers, robins and holly, plum puddings and candy canes, coloured pipe cleaners, furry pom-poms and twinkling gold stars. ‘Perhaps patients would like to make portraits of the ward staff and we can hang them on the Christmas Tree, trying to guess who’s who,’ she beamed.
Brilliant idea, and I took the bag to Deborah who leapt at the chance, her enthusiasm untainted by illness. Maura handed Deborah colour photocopies of staff which she’d requested and we set to work, swiftly tearing off cellophane and wrappers, opening all the goodies. Soon an extra bed table was covered in piles of Christmassy stuff as we sorted through the sparkles. ‘I’ll bring in some coloured crepe paper next week’, she offered, and we reminisced about the decorations of our childhoods: paper chains, lanterns, bells and balls, their concertina shapes and warm colours filling our houses with mirth. After a while, I left Deborah to set up Michael with his watercolours and greeted Concerttina (Tina).
Tina, smiling and bright eyed, declared: ‘I’m going to draw a cow, a brown and white one!’ Crayons at the ready, she coloured in a pencil drawing using browns, greys and pinks. A gorgeous cow appeared before our eyes. Tina remembered her childhood Jack Russell, Rocky, named after the Italian boxer, Rocky Marciano and listed a number of Italian opera singers: Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Cecilia Bartoli and more……all the while trying to overcome her discomfort by colouring and colouring. ‘Would you put my cow up in the entrance area’, and off I went to find a frame.
Maura came over to whisper that Deborah had become unwell suddenly. The Christmas project was off. Oh, what a blow – these creative sessions are so important to her.
A while later I returned to Tina and asked: ‘Would you like to make some Christmas decorations?’ And within minutes I was laying all the sparkly materials on her table and placing her bed in the upright position. Soon we were chatting away, assembling the staff portraits for Maura to hang on the Christmas tree in the entrance area of the ward. Time was flying past as we worked and chatted towards lunchtime. ‘You’re my best friend’, she said. I felt deeply touched.
Her neighbour, Oliver, was awake and lay quietly as we worked, Tina sometimes involving him in our conversation. His soft Irish accent evoked thoughts of lush green pastures and gentle rain, and I asked what he made of the latest Brexit negotiations involving Ireland and Northern Ireland. This was precious time: the first this year when Oliver had been well enough to hold a short conversation.
I gathered up Tina’s four fun faces for Maura and found Michael. He’d spent the morning working on his meticulous watercolour. With only 17 minutes to go, I showed him how to achieve clean lines by taking off paint with a brush and paper towel so that he could continue doing so at home. Last week, he’d taken his watercolours to show the family and I asked for their reaction. ‘They were amazed’, he chuckled modestly.
Olive had woken up and we chatted, bringing each other up to date before a nurse came over to see her.
Irving greeted me warmly when I returned a spare table to the bed nearby. ‘How are you?’ ‘Oh, six of one and half of the other. But at least I can still count!’ he quipped. And I responded in admiration, ‘Irving, you are always full of grace, wisdom and good humour’.