A few weeks ago I came across something that touched my heart and I thought I would share it with you!
But first a story.
I was eight and my mom wanted me in the hospital room to see something I didn’t particularly care to see: a live birth.
Specifically, the birth of my little sister.
I prepared well for this event. I brought a doll to keep me occupied. The doll was supposed to be little-sister practice. I wrapped it and pretended to feed it and rock it. Unfortunately, this only occupied about a minute of time. After that I grew bored and fell asleep. Sometime around two in the morning a nurse woke me up and ushered me into my mother’s delivery room.
I blocked out most of the event. Its just totally gone. Really.
But the one thing I do remember was that my little sister was rushed away. Something was wrong. Her oxygen levels were low.
I only got to see her for a second. She was much tinier than my little-sister practice doll.
Little Dani couldn’t come home with us. She had to stay in a big see-through box. I asked if it was an aquarium. That got a laugh. They told me it was an incubator and that she could come home for a bit but she needed to come back. Dani had a problem. To be precise, she had a hole in her heart. This condition is what’s known as a congenital heart defect.
FIXING A BROKEN HEART
I was in a grocery store parking lot, asking question after question when my mom finally pulled out a ratty envelope from her purse and drew me a picture.
“This is your sister’s heart. She has four valves. This valve here has a hole in it. Blood is leaking out all the time. They need to go fix it buy cutting open her chest and stopping her heart. If they can’t get her heart started again, she’ll die.”
I was terrified.
We took Dani to an expensive photography studio just before the surgery. By then she was smiling and cooing. She was a real little person. Everyone knew she may not make it through the surgery and we wanted to capture what she looked like just in case.
As I had conveniently blocked out my sister’s birth, there are few surviving memories of the day Dani had open heart surgery. But two details stand out in my mind. One, everyone was a basket case. And two, a nurse made me feel better.
As we sat in the waiting room of Primary Children’s Hospital, I was miserable and scared. Then a nurse approached me with a handful of dot matrix printer paper and a pencil. She asked me if I’d like to draw.
For hours I happily filled up the paper with pictures of cats, dogs, dragons and my favorite cartoon character: Garfield. My anxiety quieted and I was able to lose myself in the drawing.
THE HEALING POWER OF ART
Earlier this week I blogged about Steve Barr, a successful cartoonist, and his cause to supply children with drawing supplies. You can read about this here.
Of course I was drawn to this cause because of my own experience but as I study the subject more, I find that art has an incredible healing power.
“By engaging in dance, poetry or music, people are likely to initiate processes that help them manage stress, reduce negative mood states and perhaps change behavior that we know impacts cardiovascular risk and recovery.”
Dani made it through her first surgery, though there were many more to follow. She had a foot long scar spanning her back and she will have a heart murmur for the remainder of her life. She and I were very close growing up. I would say we were inseparable! Dani was the inspiration of my first book Gabriel Gussie and the Muxy, which explores the topic of protecting siblings as a core theme.
But the happier ending will be in the form of all the smiles Steve will bring to lots of kids. Go, Steve!
FURTHER READING ABOUT ARTS AND HEALING:
If you have experienced healing in the arts please tell your story!
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