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Hospitals practice the fine art of healing

Mercy Medical Center volunteer Andrea Cooper assists Eulalia M. Bell with her art project
Mercy Medical Center volunteer Andrea Cooper assists Eulalia M. Bell with her art project - Amanda Nolan
Payroll manager Joey Campbell used to take her work with her to outpatient chemotherapy treatments at Mercy Medical Center.

But now she has found a more uplifting way to pass the time while she undergoes the brutal, hours-long treatment at the downtown Baltimore hospital. She’s making jewelry and creating rubber stamp projects, thanks to Mercy’s artist-in-residence, Andrea Cooper. Campbell says she hopes she and other volunteers have brightened the moods of patients at Mercy’s Institute for Cancer Care for the past five years.

Although the art projects are ancillary to the medicinal treatment patients are receiving, some staff members have begun to rely more on Cooper. “Sometimes the nurses will say ‘Mrs. So and So is feeling anxious. I’m wondering if you’ll work with her,’" she says. “I’m a cancer survivor myself. For me, there’s a natural affinity I have with the patients.”

Mercy’s art sessions are just one of the ways that area hospitals are increasingly using poetry, dance, music and painting  to benefit patients, a practice referred to as the “healing arts.” While medicinal treatments seek to alleviate symptoms or cure an illness, healing arts are used to uplift patients who are depressed, distract them from tedious or painful procedures or bring peace to the terminally ill. Though healthcare organizations say they don’t any hard data, some practitioners say they see patients more relaxed after and subsequently, in better health.

For now, these services are used sporadically at hospitals. As patients and practitioners continue to see positive effects, the healing arts may become used as standard hospital protocol.

Here’s a look at how other local hospitals are using the healing arts on some patients.

University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC)                                
22 S Greene St. Baltimore, MD 21201                               
Type of healing arts offered: music that encourages dance and movement; crafts; scrapbooking; performances by professional musicians and entertainers; Reiki; acupuncture; guided imagery; yoga breath work; journaling.

Donna Audia holds the distinction of being one of the few integrative therapy nurses in the nation. She began her work in integrative therapy—a relatively new term used to describe the delivery of practices like Reiki, acupuncture and guided imagery—at University of Maryland Medical Center’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. In 2006, Shock Trauma administrators were discussing whether the use of integrative therapies like acupuncture might decrease patients’ pain response. They enlisted Audia’s help to run a pilot program to see if these therapies would have an impact.

In many patients, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Shock Trauma is now preparing to expand its pilot program and more formally document patients’ responses to therapies like Reiki and acupuncture.

Audia’s role has also expanded. She now works exclusively as an integrative therapy nurse at University of Maryland Medical Center. Whereas other hospitals may dabble in the healing arts to a much lesser extent, University of Maryland Medical Center is one of the first hospitals in the country to fund a position for Reiki nurses.

Audia and others have brought the healing arts to patients in other units: neonatal intensive care, the cancer center and cardiac care.

“We were part of the face transplant team. We wouldn’t be pulled into these things if physicians didn’t think it was worthy,” Audia says.

Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital (Part of LifeBridge Health)
Location: 2434 W Belvedere Ave. Baltimore, MD 21215
Type of healing arts offered: Music therapy, art therapy, dance therapy, Reiki, aromatherapy, horticulture therapy
“My job as a music therapist is to deliver music therapy throughout the building,” explains David Parker, who is happy to put his advanced degree in music therapy to use at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.
Parker uses music to bring some clarity to Alzheimer’s patients, many of whom are confused and often describe the disease as ‘being in a fog.’ He delivers music to these patients in the late afternoon, a time known for increased agitation among adults with Alzheimer’s. “I pull them into a room, playing familiar music. Often it calls back specific memories, great associations,” Parker says. “I’m bringing in residents, many of whom have lost the ability to communicate. And all of a sudden, they’re right with me.” 
Johns Hopkins Children’s Center                                                                             
Location: 1800 Orleans Street, Baltimore, Md. 21287                
Type of healing arts offered: Creative writing, various forms of play (games, etc.)

Sean Morrissey doesn’t have an ulterior motive when he arrives at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center to spend time with patients who are willing. “For the kids, it’s ‘Let’s have fun with words.’ It’s as simple as that,” he says.

A trained poet, Morrissey knows that writing is a solitary and contemplative act. He figured it could be the perfect activity for kids without a whole lot to do, but maybe a lot on their minds. But sharing this activity with patients is new for the local poet and textbook editor, so he keeps his expectations in check and considers himself primarily a cheerleader of the patients’ efforts.

“I really try to encourage their work. I always leave them with a lot of extra paper and a couple of pens,” he says.

Although Morrissey originally approached the hospital with his idea to hold creative writing sessions with patients, the staff has since embraced the soothing effect his efforts have had on their young patients.

“Beyond being a healthy distraction to some of the painful and challenging realities of hospitalization, this program personalizes the experience for kids,” says Annie Woods Beatson, child life TV & special events coordinator for the children’s center.

Morrissey can’t say for sure what impact his writing sessions have on patients, some of whom are enduring long hospital stays and uncertain futures. But for some of them, it seems to provide a newfound skill and, with it, perhaps more confidence to face a challenging medical diagnosis.

“There was this girl just last week. She was really quiet. She said she was a terrible writer,” Morrissey says. “Then she wrote a gorgeous poem. I wish I had it in front of me.”
Elizabeth Heubeck is a Baltimore-based freelance writer, covering topics as diverse as parenting and public health. She writes for several local print and web outlets, universities, and medical centers.

All photographs by Amanda Nolan
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