“Art Saves Lives,” is a bumper sticker I occasionally see around town, and every time I do I think, “Maybe, but in an emergency I’d prefer my rescuer know CPR than how to wield a paintbrush.” It’s a conundrum created “where science, humanity, and art converge.”
But what of art’s ability to heal? Most nurses know the benefits of art therapy: self-discovery, personal fulfillment, empowerment, relaxation, and symptom relief. However, can merely looking at art produce similar effects?
This question came to mind while rereading Vermeer in Bosnia¹, an written essay by Lawrence Weschler. Weschler interviewed Antonio Casse, then the presiding judge of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, during the trial of Dusko Tadic for crimes against humanity.
Weschler asked Judge Casse how he maintained his sanity while listening day after day to horrific accounts of torture, rape, and murder. Casse’s answer: “Ah, you see, as often as possible I make my way over to the Mauritshuis museum, in the center of town [in the Hague], so as to spend a little time with the Vermeers.”
Can looking at art — even a painting as beautiful as Girl With a Pearl Earring — reduce the effects of secondary trauma and compassion fatigue? If so, can nurses and patients benefit from this simplest form of art therapy?
A small study ² conducted by Dr. Marina de Tommaso, a neurologist, found that patients who gazed at and contemplated paintings they considered beautiful felt less pain when subjected to noxious stimuli. The New York Times has reported that museum visits help Alzheimer’s patients experience symptom improvement ³. The mechanism triggering these effects on the brain is not well understood.
Though the jury is out (pun intended) as to whether looking at art has therapeutic power, I think it’s worth a try for patients — and their nurses. Here are a few easy to implement suggestions.
- Incorporate artwork into waiting rooms and hallways, but be mindful of the patient population. Art with jagged edges or mirrored surfaces (some types of sculpture, for instance) may evoke posttraumatic symptoms in patients who have disfiguring scars, surgical or otherwise.
- Place something beautiful in the patient’s view from the hospital bed or the infusion clinic lounge chair.
- Place books featuring artwork in waiting rooms instead of year-old magazines.
- Hang a beautiful painting in the staff lounge instead of that big, messy corkboard cluttered with safety committee meeting minutes and medication recall notices.
- Find a location with a beautiful view on your route home. Pull over, take a deep breath, and look. We live in a beautiful world.
- Shop for art at a museum gift shop. Not every budget allows for buying original art. Gift shops offer an assortment of quality reproductions. Have less money to spend than that? Collecting postcards of works by famous painters is an inexpensive alternative. Buy frames from dollar stores or thrift shops, paint them white, and hang them in groups on a bright color- painted wall.
- Create an art space in your home. I pinned my postcards to an old vanity. Once I added candles, it doubled as a place for meditation and reflection.
Do you think it’s the art or a meditative response to looking that provides relaxation and improves symptoms?
American Heart Association, are you messing with me?
I was a wee bambina sitting at the dinner table the first time I heard the acronym CPR. My father, a volunteer firefighter for the small town where we lived, certified that afternoon. I remember him saying, “It’s a terrible thing to need to do, but everyone should know how to do it,” and his words are true. Everyone should know CPR.
I got my first CPR card in high school, recerting off and on until becoming a nurse. Now, I recert (renew) every two years. All hospitals I have worked for in two different states require Registered Nurses to have current BLS certification. There is no grace period. If the card expires, the nurse cannot return to work until he or she has renewed their certification.
I love The Heart, however, few things swizzle an experienced nurse’s placid pool of confidence more than CPR recertification, aka, BLS (Basic Life Support). I know this, because I renewed my card last week. Everyone in the class expressed anxiety. Anxiety occurs because, every two years, we have to relearn breath to compression ratios, and how many compressions per minute. For one rescuer or two? Is the victim an adult or a child? The ratios are different for each. And what the hell is that little rhyme you’re supposed to repeat while changing positions with the other rescuer because you’re getting chest pains yourself from the exertion of doing (how many, again?) chest compressions? Don’t forget, you’re trying to save a person’s life while doing this.
Our instructor assured us changes occur only every five years, but it seems different every time. Not only for staff I work with: once, I was running behind two women runners on the Hawthorne Bridge, and overheard them talking about CPR, and how confusing all the numbers are to remember. I sprinted to them, asked if they were nurses. They were. We ran together for a while, commiserating over this albatross of our working lives.
So you can imagine my chagrin, last week when our instructors explained the changing numbers confuses so many health care professionals and lay people, they were not even attempting CPR outside of hospitals, for fear of doing it wrong. This led the AHA to research hands-only CPR. They found:
• Hands-Only CPR (CPR with just chest compressions) has been proven to be as effective as CPR with breaths in treating adult cardiac arrest victims.
• The American Heart Association has recommended Hands-Only CPR for adults since 2008.
As of June 2011
I support the American Heart Association listening to our concerns. I applaud its continual research, which saves lives. Everyone should know CPR.
All the same, does this mean, these past twenty-five years I’ve been a nurse, whether it was one or two breaths between compressions has never really mattered?
American Heart Association, are you just messing with me?