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Posted by on Sep 10, 2018 in CRPS / RSD | 0 comments

Health as art (10.09.2018)

Health as art (10.09.2018)

This post isn’t about therapy, it’s about art-as-outreach at a local university’s multi-hospital health centre.

Last Thursday was another “patient day” for me; after getting some work done, from 0700 to 0930, I left my office job & headed over to the hospital. My destination was the Pain Management Unit, called the PMU, to meet with my specialist medical team.

I talked first with my treating physician, who’s also the Director of the PMU. Then with a trainee, who’d just joined the PMU team that week.

My physician outlined some possible next step treatments, to (try to) get my rare neuro-inflammatory disease more under control. We talked about the risks and potential benefits of each option, and agreed to try a new type of treatment – next month.

As I was walking back through the hospital, I saw a brightly-coloured poster out of the corner of my eye. The phrase “New beginnings” leapt out at me, so I went over for a closer look.

The poster was partially hidden by another one on the bulletin board, so I carefully uncovered it. The first line said “Call for art submissions”, so I wondered whether this was a new fundraising initiative for the hospital.

Hospitals here in Canada are taxpayer-funded, and often lack money for major upgrades. Or they may have to wait for lengthy administrative processes, before receiving promised money for building projects.

Our hospitals’ charitable foundations will often bridge these gaps, by fundraising for renovations & other projects. This lets hospitals start the project, while waiting for government funds to become available.

This particular hospital is currently undergoing a major upgrade, so I’ve been seeing a lot of fundraising posters around the place.

a poster inviting submission for an art exhibition at a hospital

Photo: Sandra Woods; 2018 “Journeys Through Health: An Art Exhibition”

But no, this wasn’t fundraising. The poster was asking for submissions for a community art exhibition, to be presented right there, in the hospital: the 2018-2019 edition of “Journeys Through Health: An Art Exhibition”.*

It’s the 2nd edition of a still-new “annual community-based visual arts exhibition offering a space of reflection for all the patients, families, caregivers, and healthcare staff who are touched by illness”.* The theme for this 2018-2019 art show is “New Beginnings”.*

This goal of this art exhibition is to consider the “transformative potential of illness and healing, and how these experiences can act as a catalyst for personal rebirth and empowerment”.* How a healthcare journey can create a new perspective, or lead to a positive change in someone’s life.

As I kept reading, I realized that this art contest wasn’t only for hospital employees – it was also for patients. I was intrigued! And very happy to see that this university hospital was including patients in its community art exhibition.

Patients – alongside physicians, nurses, and other hospital staff members. What a great way to give the folks working in healthcare an opportunity to see patients as people, in a different light. And for patients to see their medical teams as artistic & creative individuals. As people.

This was something I really wanted to be a part of. But the submission deadline was in just a few days, on September 10th. And because my disease affects my dominant (right) hand, I can barely hold a pen to write anymore, let alone draw or paint.

The only artistic activity I can manage these days is one-handed photography – using only my smartphone. I can’t even use a real camera anymore.

So I sent a quick on-the-spot email to the organizers, to ask if they were accepting photographs. They said they were, but not video or movies. I decided to take a chance. I’d submit one of my recent shots, even though it’s only a smartphone image; it doesn’t have the depth and resolution of photography.

The on-line submission form asked for a 100 word (maximum!) description of how the submitted artwork fits in with the exhibition’s theme of “New Beginnings”.

This is the photo I submitted, taken in one of my own gardens, and these are my 100 words:

yellow flowers in a garden

Photo: Sandra Woods





Diagnosed with a rare neuro-inflammatory disease in 2016, I sought out other patients for support. Because my background’s in medical research and bioethics, I was soon helping them!

Helping’s important to me, so I’ve become a patient advocate for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – and resilience. Like finding new ways to do things I love, including nature photography. I can’t use my right hand/arm, so take photographs with only a phone; relying on angle, composition, sun, shadow. No filters.

I use these photographs to raise awareness of CRPS, which causes neuropathic pain worse than kidney stones. Constant, often permanent, chronic pain.

My new beginning, through my relatively recent rare disease, has been to become an inadvertent patient advocate. So if my smartphone photo is selected, and my essay is included, maybe; a doctor will stop to read it, decide to read up on CRPS, and be able to quickly diagnose a patient who presents with its signs & symptoms. Or a researcher might become interested in CRPS, or a nurse, or… you get the idea, right?!

As for the art show, I’ll have to wait to find out whether my little smartphone photo will be good enough. To find out whether it will be picked for this community art show. It’s the first time I’ve ever submitted a photo, drawing, or painting for an exhibition, so wish me luck!

That said, I really don’t expect my photo to be selected. But I am glad that I submitted it. It was nice to to reflect on something positive at the hospital, in relation to all the time I spend as a patient.

Good luck to all the other people who’ve taken the time to submit something they created; patients, nurses, physicians, technicians, and everyone else who keeps the hospital running!


* See the Journeys Through Health: An Art Exhibition website for more information.

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