five • Quilts in Healing Environments and Clinical Care
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| 153 Quilts in Healing Environments and Clinical Care five} O ne goal of this book is to describe the many ways quilts and quiltmaking are being used in relation to health—from raising public awareness, as in the example of the national AIDS quilt, to comforting victims of war and natural disaster. In chapter 3 we provided empirical evidence of the association between art and positive, measurable health outcomes, along with nascent evidence of such impact related to quilts in particular. Even in the absence of scientific “proof,” quilts have been used in clinical settings for years to help create a healing environment, and their use in actual clinical practice is rapidly expanding . It now goes well beyond just giving patients quilts for spiritual and physical comfort. There are countless examples of clinics, residential facilities, and hospitals in which quilts have become part of the milieu and are used as a therapeutic “intervention.” Quilts and Healing Environments Health care is increasingly moving away from a disease-based medical model to a more holistic model with greater emphasis on multiple dimensions of “good health,” such as psychological and social well-being and their contributions to the healing process. The value of beauty and the arts to a sense of well-being and quality of life has long been recognized. Long before antibiotics and advanced medicine, attention to the environment helped form the logic behind the development of sanatoriums and health resorts where patients were exposed to nature, fresh air, and aesthetically pleasing surroundings. More recently, Roger Ulrich provided some of the first empirical evidence that a view of nature out a hospital window can make a positive difference in health outcomes, including a decreased length of stay and lower narcotic use for pain.1 It doesn’t take much of a stretch to posit that the interior physical environment may also affect health outcomes. If guided imagery, in which people picture a peaceful place in their minds, can help reduce anxiety and stress, it stands to reason that an actual peaceful place will contribute to similar results. Quilts, as both an object of beauty and symbol of comfort, now adorn clinical walls as a strategic way to help people cope and heal. They are therapeutic for patients and staff alike. Joanne Lester and Amy Rettig describe what now seems to be a typical case in which a young woman, newly diagnosed with invasive cancer, arrives at her first clinic consultation, frightened and uncertain of her future. She later recalls that “the colorful quilt on the conference room wall remind[ed] her of her grandmother’s home, and the soft quilts she curled 154 | Quilts and Health up with as a child,” and how she quietly thanked “someone” at the clinic for providing the distraction.2 The authors, both oncology nurses, laud quilts as supportive care in disguise and argue for recognizing the physical environment for its therapeutic value. Lynn Lancaster Gorges, from New Bern, North Carolina, echoes the value of aesthetics in the following story: My mother was in a nursing home for a total of 17 years after a stroke at age 67. I realized that too often people in the medical needs area of care were cared for physically, but not mentally/emotionally/visually. So often I thought of the “hyacinths” for the soul poem. Loosely . . . if you have 2 pence use one for bread and the other for hyacinths for the soul. People who have medical needs don’t get enough hyacinths. Our mother was given a lovely signature quilt by her Extension Homemakers Group that we hung on her wall and then decorated the nursing home room in those same colors. . . . We need to treat the aesthetics/individuality of people receiving medical treatment. That is often just as important as the equipment, the tests, etc. It is hyacinths for the soul.3 Lisa Ellis, founder of Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends, is committed to providing more hyacinths in the form of art quilts that make a difference in the lives of patients and their families . Members of Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends were inspired by the actions of Judy House, Ellis’s quilt instructor, who died of breast cancer in 2005. Before her death, House organized a group of thirty-seven art quiltmakers to make art quilts based on the plants and animals used in chemotherapies. Through this activity, the organization Healing Quilts in Medicine was conceived. These quilts now hang in the oncology unit of Walter Reed National...


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