It’s the lucky few among us who are spared the panic and confusion, the shouting and antiseptic smells, unique to a hospital emergency room.
When the crisis passes happily, and may all crises pass happily, we return to blessed normalcy, wiping the frightening images from memory.
Minneapolis artist Anita White has taken a different approach.
From December 2016 to May 2017, White documented her family’s sometimes harrowing medical experiences, and the quiet heroes who pulled them through, by creating dozens of pen and watercolor sketches.
White drew in ambulances, in hospital rooms, “and in the lowly places like the corner of the emergency department waiting room.”
She drew, she said, through panic, anxiety and healing. The result is “Drawing Through Crisis With Courage and Humor,” a collection of watercolor pastels, large and small, on display through mid-October at Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis.
White, of south Minneapolis, was a regular visitor to HCMC when her 77-year-old husband, Josh, suffered one medical challenge after another, including heart and lung ailments. She never left his side, and she never left her sketchbook behind.
“Drawing helped me keep track of the facts, and allowed me to navigate the deep philosophical waters one comes to with medical uncertainties and crisis,” she said.
In her sketches, White misses few details.
In one, she notes the “bits of yellow” on a physical therapist’s uniform top. In another, she tackles the oxygen monitor, called an “oximeter,” that’s placed on her husband’s finger. While the device is tiny, its power over the couple is immense, taking them on a roller coaster of panic and relief depending on the number it spits out.
White sketches a childlike yellow clock to reflect the agonizing waiting — for test results, a doctor to appear, food to arrive, a discharge order to be filled. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
She also pays homage to the many unsung professionals they met, from calm 911 operators to ambulance drivers to lab technicians to doctors and nurses.
She devotes one large piece to Emma, an aide from Ghana, who brought White’s husband not one, but two, hot sandwiches after he hadn’t eaten for 12 hours.
Josh is doing well now, back to mowing the lawn and volunteering at a food shelf. Still, White’s sketchbook remains open.
“Caretaking and watching over my family has continued to preoccupy me,” White said. “Drawing is a quiet task, a way to record, and be invisible.”
The free exhibit is presented by Inspire Arts, a program of HCMC’s patient experience services department.