On Mondays, rounds take a longer time on the inpatient acute pain service. It is my first day on service, and I enjoy getting to know our patients. I have found there is great payoff in taking time at the beginning of the week to establish rapport and understand the true reasons we were consulted. Slowly and deliberately our team moves from room to room. The residents introduce me to the individuals they have already gotten to know. All morning we talk about aches, pains, hopes, dreams, pangs, victories, and frustrations.
This month there have been extra challenges for our patients. Not only are they recovering from acute injuries or invasive surgeries while battling complicated comorbidities and pharmacodynamics, but they must do so without their usual support systems. COVID-19 precautions have prevented any visitors from being at the bedside.
Ms. G is alone, silent, and still when we enter her room. She is seated in the chair by her window: young, tired, lonely, hopeful. She has battled inflammatory bowel disease and its associated chronic pain for years, but she has reached a point where she cannot put off surgical management any longer. Each day of the last few years has been a challenge, but these past few days have pushed her to a new limit of suffering. It is now postoperative day 2, and she is dutifully taking deep breaths and concentrating on expanding her lung volumes. She has not yet walked the hallways. When she looks over at us, her eyes are moist. I am concerned about the effect of isolation on her mental health, pain tolerance, and resilience. Our conversation weaves back and forth between presurgical expectations and postsurgical coping. Before we leave, we ask more questions than we answer.
“All of our acute pain patients are so lovely,” says our medical student.
At the end of the day, art-making is my meditation, my way of coping with the stress and strong emotions I sense from my patients’ experiences. Looking Outward (on the cover of this issue) was inspired by my interactions with Ms. G, and her mosaic-like complexity of physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges. Over the course of a week, I found stillness and calming of my thoughts as I meticulously laid out the patterns and colors in this piece. I do not limit myself to a single medium or artistic technique, but mosaics of polymer clay on glass, as in Looking Outward, are one my favorites. During the COVID-19 pandemic, reflection through making art has been an especially important wellness and burnout prevention technique for me.