Color My World: The Arts in Medicine

In 1992, the director of the bone marrow transplant unit at the University of Florida's Shands Hospital was disillusioned with the sterile and impersonal nature of the health-care system, and decided to do something about it. Dr. John Graham-Pole first started to write poetry; then he became a clown, literally. He had always used humor as a healing tool in his work, but this time he brought baggy pants and floppy shoes and silly toys to the office. Some people thought this to be a little bizarre, but morale at the hospital improved and most of the staff were convinced that this was helping to alleviate patients' suffering and even hasten their recovery. So much so that Graham-Pole decided to expand, and called in reinforcements. With the help of Mary Rockwood Lane, a Gainesville painter with 10 years' experience as an intensive-care nurse, they started the Arts-in-Medicine program.

Shands Hospital at the University of Florida.
The program they created is the biggest in the country, and the most copied. The overall mission is to identify and develop connections between the creative arts and the healing arts that will improve the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of the patients. The approach is unique in that it is not confined to the usual ensemble of paintings on walls and string quartets in lobbies. Instead, artists work directly with patients, and teach them how to paint, dance, write, play music, sculpt, act, and so on. The art becomes a conduit of sorts for the patients to better deal with the anxieties and apprehensions of their illness. At present, there are eight artists-in-residence at Shands, and about 80 artists are working as volunteers on specific projects. For Dr.Graham-Pole,the program is part of a much larger effort, long overdue, to humanize health care.
     This 60-minute documentary features the pioneering work of Dr. John Graham-Pole and Mary Rockwood Lane, the founders of the program, and through them provides a detailed presentation of the program's history and how it functions. It also profiles some of the artists-in-residence, and highlights how their presence makes the hospital a less threatening, more humanistic place, and how their one-to-one contact with patients provides a creative avenue that enhances their treatment. But perhaps the bulk of the documentary concentrates on individual stories of a number of patients who are working directly with one or more of the various artists, and how they are personally benefiting from the experience.
     The documentary highlights the artistic process in action. Dramatic visual sequences abound. A reserved, eleven-year-old girl, suffering from sickle cell anemia, for instance, opens up to the dancer-in-residence who drapes her in scarves. A lonely, withdrawn woman who cannot cope with cancer and is in depression manages to come out of it through getting involved in painting. A teenage, bedridden, African-American young man composes a poem called "Friends" with the writer-in-residence. An old woman reminisces about the past and the way things were when two dancers perform in her room. A little girl with cerebral palsy watches as a couple of drama volunteers play back her story. Other patients are featured who learn to better deal with their problems through listening to or playing music, or byparticipating in a theater workshop. Or sculpting. Or painting tiles. Or by learning to dance, and in most cases dragging the I.V. hooked to their arm along.
     Patients also read from stories and poems and journal entries that the writer-in-residence encourages them to write. Some of these are moving, others insightful, all are incredibly inspirational. Their use of metaphor - especially in the poems and stories by children -- is wonderful. A six-year-old cancer patient, for instance, says how he would love to be Michael Jordan's son, so he could model Nikes. A fourteen-year-old lupus patients writes that you could do anything you put your mind to and that every bad thing has some good in it: she is going to take all her medicine, get well, become a teacher, and go overseas. Another fourteen-year-old cancer patient thanks the hospital for giving her another chance at life.
     The tiles painted by patients and patients' families that adorn the walls, the painted tiles that grace the ceilings, the live music that echoes incessantly in the Atrium, the Friday afternoon performances in the halls of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, and especially the art that takes place between artist and patient at the bedside, have made Shands into one of the most human, caring, and inspirational hospitals in the country.
     The connection between arts and medicine has been around for thousands of years. Apollo, for instance, was the god of both music and healing. The coming of the technological age increased the distance between the two. But now, health-care workers are beginning to rediscover that connection. About two dozen hospitals in the country have instigated arts programs -- and that number is quickly multiplying. But none is of the size and scope as the one at