More or Less

Making more from art and crafting supplies provided.
That’s just what he did and who he was.

The hospital bed sheet is stretched tight and filled with the boy and his creations.
A plain wooden snake, meant to be painted. He has turned it into a sea serpent, added paper fins here and there, spikes, eyes, and a dangerous, scaly tail.
Next to the serpent lies a wooden plane. Again, meant to be painted. Instead, he has added paper wings and a spinning paper propeller.
There’s an insect sketch turned into a moving creature, brought to life by way of brads and tape. An assortment of crafting tools are on the sheet too. I am not sure where they have come from. I imagine while I was in the shower or grabbing breakfast, Arts in Medicine or perhaps Child Life stopped by and delivered them on request.

More are always needed,
and eventually created
in the best of ways.

The lunch tray, precarious on the edge of the bed.
Sips of juice gone, bites of French fries, a cheeseburger mostly there.
At a glance, an artist at work,
too busy for food right now.

A cardboard shoe horn turned into a magical African mask,
a small delivery box that became a “box” turtle,
endless hospital socks that found new life as puppets,
and sketches of characters turned into “action figures” to perform and play with.

From my seat in his wheelchair, I wondered so often what he was thinking, how his mind worked. I watched him at work, engaging in beautiful distraction from the realities of hospital life.

After our goodbyes to Ricky and encouraging talk of another visit soon, I hoped we both might nap. A nurse came in to change a beeping bag on the IV stand and take some vitals. She admired the creativity surrounding her since the last time in.  As she left, Marshal asked her, ”Are there any volunteers still here? Could you send some down if there are?” The nurse promised to check.

I was scheduled to meet a friend from college who worked nearby. I left for the atrium as Marshal fiddled sleepily with the remains of a Lego set from the morning.

I must have been smiling as I found my friend in the lobby. I felt so good about the afternoon of art I had witnessed. We stole a few brief moments for private catch-up talks we couldn’t share in front of Marshal. Marshal took the stage when the room had visitors, and he typically wanted light-hearted stories, music, play, silliness, and imagination. The tougher talks happened in halls, atriums, and valet parking circles. The room saw enough tough times as it was. When guests came around, we changed the channel for a while.

As my friend and I got to the nurses station, the nurses were all smiles.
They told us, “There’s a party going on in your room. You’ll see.”

We entered to find a small crowd. I saw a few familiar faces – my cousin’s kids who were UF students, and a volunteer I recognized.  But there were 2 or 3 others. Young, smiling faces in blue polos laughing and enjoying the late afternoon together as members of Marshal’s court. 

Apparently, most of the other kids on the floor were either infants or feeling too lousy for visitors. As a result, the king of this room had gathered them all for this end of the day feel-good party. Introductions, music playing in the background, hands helping Marshal build, some simply admiring the art around the room, taking it all in.  It seemed to be what each visitor needed to close out their day: laughter, just because. I have no doubt that it was what the patient wanted.

Marshal drawing

Friends. It never mattered the age or gender. It happened frequently, this scene. Nurses took part and hung around when they could. Volunteers and Arts in Medicine staff came by with regularity. It felt a little like creating something more once again, a sense of community, of home, even.

“Hey, so good to see you, this is my friend…”
“Marshal, I brought you something.”
“Be careful – don’t sit on that!”
“Do you know so and so?  Have you met?”
“What are you doing?! Don’t throw that out. That’s part of my project!”

Inevitably all good things would end. Goodbyes, “See you later, Marshal”s from people who’d been perched on the side of the bed, seated in his wheelchair, leaning on a bathroom door. Packed in, still smiling, they began to leave. I always felt certain that all involved knew they had been part of something special, that they had made a difference, if even for an hour, in this one young life.

Dinner came as the room quieted back to hospital white noise. Just the sounds of our two voices recapping the day and planning what we might do that night.

Light began to fade from my one corner window. I sensed we both might sleep better tonight.

A knock at the door, and in came a maintenance man. He had come to repair one of our many pieces of equipment. He saw them all around, but he saw something more: works of art. He took them in as he turned like a child at Disney’s gates. “So, this is the cool room,” he said quietly. He genuinely seemed in awe of the many creations my son and I had displayed around our tiny room-become-home. “Wow, did you make all of these? Very cool. Mind if I take a look?”
Marshal didn’t mind. In fact, he pulled out the other creations.
Legos, clay figures and balloon animals wedged in all corners of his bed,
Things untangled from his IV lines and dinner containers.
He pulled out even more. More for this gallery visitor at the end of the day to see.

“Thanks, buddy. Thanks for the tour. You have a good evening now, ok?”

As the man completed his work and left, Marshal gave him a sample, a take-away from the day’s creations. He often gave things away like that. A little reminder of a good day’s work, more or less.
A reminder to us both that “good” can happen in a hospital, too.
That this one of many days can be a day to exercise creativity,
to fill a room with friendship, community, possibility. Making more.

Betsy and Marshal

Betsy Fisher is a mother, writer, and champion of Arts in Medicine. During her time as a caregiver to her son, Marshal, she wrote from her point of view about Marshal’s experiences in a healthcare setting where the arts and healthcare often intersected. This collection is based on her journal entries.
Special thanks to AIM writer in residence Andrew Hix for serving as blog editor for this collection.

Read more by Betsy: Artist’s Journals