The Arts-in-Health Care Program at UW Hospital and Clinics
MADISON – The pain from her two broken legs was so intense that Danni didn't even realize her wrist was broken, too.
The 17-year-old from Necedah got in an accident while driving home from Mauston after having dinner with her cousin last month. The extent of the damage was such that surgeons at UW Hospital and Clinics had to place two titanium rods to stabilize her legs. One of her femurs had punctured the skin.
Comparatively speaking, the broken wrist was just an annoyance, like a mosquito bite.
"It didn't even hurt," Danni says. "I didn't even know it happened. I was like, 'Oh, I broke my wrist. OK.'"
The deep scars on Danni's legs betray the severity of her injury and the arduous physical rehabilitation she is undertaking. Rehab therapists are using a tilt table to get Danni, who is still using a wheelchair, on her feet without subjecting her legs to a pressure for which they are not yet prepared.
"I have my painful days and my good days," she says. "I try to keep a positive attitude."
A recently introduced arts-in-health care program that engages her mind and imagination as well as her mending body is helping her with that positive attitude.
Funded by the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment, and with the help of a $4,000 contribution from UW Hospital and Clinics and a $10,000 grant from Friends of UW Hospital and Clinics, artist-in-residence Sarah Petto has designed and implemented the program and is helping rehabilitation patients use art as a catalyst for healing.
"The emphasis is on creative self-expression," Petto says. "When art therapists work with patients, they have a very specific role - to get patients back to doing what they do in their worlds at home. Some of that can be done through art-making."
Petto supplies the paint, brushes and any other supplies that might be needed, as well as the expertise she brought to art education roles with students from kindergarten all the way through college and from her formal training as a studio artist. She estimates she's worked with close to 150 patients since the program's inception.
For the project in which Danni is participating – painting the windows of the UW Hospital fourth-floor rehabilitation kitchen – Petto started with outlines of butterflies, bees and a honeycomb and let the patients take it from there.
Danni is giving color to the butterflies. With her right hand – her strong hand – in a cast, Danni began using her left, and has now developed something of a brushstroke ambidexterity. But the best thing about the painting is the release from the grind of the rehabilitation day it provides her.
"It's really good," she says. "It keeps my mind off the pain."
It's that blend of physical and emotional rehabilitation that has made UW Hospital rehabilitation therapist Kris Kravik a strong advocate for the arts-in-health care program.
"Even though I see specific therapeutic values – Danni's using her other hand, other patients are sitting up in their chairs – they're not looking at it that way," Kravik says. "They're smiling and they forget about their pain and some of their problems."
Dr. David Rakel, director of UW Health's Integrative Medicine program and Petto's supervisor, places the program in the context of a narrative. Patients, he says, often benefit from allowing themselves to understand the process and ramifications of their injuries.
"People can use art to tell their own story," Dr. Rakel says. "It can enhance the healing process. It's a great thing to do to empower patients. It gives them a sense of control and understanding, and helps cultivate meaning and purpose."
And control, says Kravik, is something patients confined to the rigors of a rehabilitation schedule often long for but do not have. That they derive a little slice of it from an activity they enjoy makes it all the better.
"They don't have control over other things in their days," Kravik says. "It's fun and they take pride when people come down to the dining room (to see their work). It's like, 'Wow, I did something and people like it.'"
Danni's rehabilitation continues. She has at least a couple of weeks left in the hospital, and one of her post-discharge goals is to regain enough strength to resume powerlifting with a Necedah-area team she accompanied to a nationals competition last year. In the meantime, she intersperses tilt-table sessions with applying the finishing touches to the pastoral scene on the kitchen window.
"Every day it gets easier," she says.
Date Published: 08/07/2009