Teenagers Drawing During Dialysis


Katie and Diane content after hours of drawing

I’ve worked with adult cancer survivors. This was my first program in a major pediatric hospital, and I welcomed working with teenagers again. (I was a high school art teacher in a low performing school in South Florida. So, I can handle teenagers.)

Arkansas Children’s Hospital hosted my Bodyscapes Healing Art Workshops. Nothing like this has ever been done in their new 4 bed dialysis center. Using funding from the Anne Goss Foundation, I went to Little Rock, Arkansas to give teenagers the experience of writing poems and drawing pictures specifically about their dialysis treatment. 

The trio of teens I worked with (one age 14 and two age 17) spend 4 hours, 3 times a week, sitting in a Lazy Boy chair hooked up to a dialysis machine. Although often exhausted and nauseous during treatment, they were nonetheless excited to do my Bodyscapes process. Said 17 year old self-described “Emo Goth” Katie: “Bodyscapes helped me forget about being in this place and the fragments of the past. I had even more fun than Diane did!” During Bodyscapes, I encouraged the kids to talk about any aspect of their life, whatever it might be. They used this art lesson to talk about life and death, pain and suffering, “dirty blood and clean blood”, feeling like an outcast, and the drag of having to do something absolutely essential 3 times a week, that you don’t want to do.

When the art was finished and framed, I hosted a special reception in the dialysis center. I told the teens that their drawings and poems would help viewers better understand what it’s like to be a teen living with dialysis. In these pictures containing anatomical images (kidneys, hearts, arteries) viewers can see other things–a tulip, a cross and a calligraphic “f“.

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Alejo, age 17, I was Divided from My Kidneys, 2016 Pastel on Fabriano paper, 11″ x 15″

Said Katie lee, VP of ACH Emergency Services  at the reception: “Today was a phenomenal day…I thought I had an idea of what these teenagers were going through, but this was the first time I truly was able to see what they felt like living with dialysis. It is a very restricted life. ” She added: “Bodyscapes allowed them to be normal. I saw freedom in their artwork. This show was so loving.”

Their poems and drawings titled, Teen Art from the Dialysis Chair, were published in my second Bodyscapes art catalog (May 2016). I presented each teen with a professionally printed copy at the reception held in their honor.

During my 3 weeks working in Little Rock, I also conducted 2 self-care Bodyscapes workshops for the Child Life & Education Department of the hospital. They lovingly care for sick children, an exhausting job which can sometimes produce “compassion fatigue.” Raquel, Certified Child Life Specialist, said about the workshop: “Definitely made me more aware of the stress I have been holding in my body.”

Director of Child Life & Education Department, Renee Hunte, was very enthused to provide Bodyscapes as a self care activity for her staff. She worked hard to make that happen, coordinating their tight schedules on 2 consecutive days. Renee participated in the workshops and immediately moved into a creative mode, surprising herself!

Renee said to me at the end of the workshop: “Bodyscapes exceeded my expectations.”

Alison Cabellero, Senior Development Officer Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation, wrote: I highly encourage others who care for children to consider hosting Bodyscapes workshops.”

I look forward to doing many more projects in pediatric hospitals. 

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Alison Caballero, Diane Sciarretta and Renee Hunte at ACH, May 2016


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