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Artist’s Statement: Tooth of the Lion

Azad, Marisa Ann

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003209
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I always looked forward to rounding on Patrick when I was an internal medicine resident. Despite the never-ending beeps of monitors and the tangles of lines and tubes, Patrick’s room somehow stood apart from the intensive care unit (ICU). It was a much-needed oasis in a world where hope was hard to find: It was bright and calming, brimming with his artwork and sculptures that his family brought from home. There was a lamp he handcrafted from old superhero toys and a smattering of other eclectic pieces he made over the years. His room shone brightly in face of an onslaught of technology, laboratory values, radiographs, and medication lists.

Patrick was a kind and creative soul who enjoyed comic books and pop culture. His family was always by his side, attentive, loving, and hopeful. We connected instantly over our shared passion for art. His family shared many wonderful stories describing how selfless and caring Patrick was. We spoke of dandelions and dreams. We spoke of wolves, suffering, and family.

We spoke of miracles.

Patrick passed away during one of my last ICU shifts. I was devastated. His family asked to be in the room as I pronounced him. They grabbed me and cried for what felt like an eternity. They showed me more of his artwork. I was overwhelmed.

As I stumbled home from my shift, I remembered thinking there must be more we can do as physicians to help those who are suffering. And in this sleep-deprived moment, I decided to create a painting to celebrate and honor Patrick’s remarkable life and spirit. I thought, I will call it Tooth of the Lion, to represent his selflessness, courage, and love of dandelions.

Tooth of the Lion, on the cover of this issue, represents the creative energy, humanity, and gentleness Patrick shared with the world. The hummingbird’s throat is purple, which represents the color of Patrick’s First Nation tribe. The lupins and dandelions in the French wine glass symbolize his personal growth and strength.

Over 2 years have passed since I gifted Patrick’s family Tooth of the Lion; over 2 years have passed since I attended Patrick’s funeral and held the hands of his family—the connection we have is lifelong. It was Patrick who inspired me to create the ARTICU Project: Creating Personalized Patient Artwork to Ease Bereavement in the ICU. Working with Dr. Deborah Cook, I create personalized paintings for families representing and celebrating the lives of loved ones who have passed away in the ICU. ARTICU aims to help families navigate the grieving process by using art as a narrative medicine platform.

Art is medicine, and it is my dream that ARTICU will continue to help families feel less alone in a time of grief. ARTICU reminds us, as physicians, that there is far more to medicine than logic and algorithms. It reminds us why we became physicians in the first place. To this day, through ARTICU, Patrick continues to inspire us to better ourselves and to open our hearts to new possibilities, hope, and the healing power of art.

Tooth of the Lion
Copyright © 2020 by the Association of American Medical Colleges