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Monday, May 7, 2012

Listen to Me

Narrator: When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just...
Marla Singer: - instead of just waiting for their turn to speak

Fight Club, 1999

Portrait artists tend to hate ears. We often hate feet and hands as well. Those are the appendages that slow us down. They are so intricate, unique and time consuming. So we hide feet in shoes and hands behind backs. Ears are more challenging to hide, even a lovely maid with long hair has to show a bit of ear within the piece.

Ears are challenging to paint, but we can't ignore them. They symbolize something very important: We each would like to be listened to. When Van Gogh decided to chop off a piece of himself he did not choose a pinky finger. Always remember artists tend to highlight items for a reason and often the symbolism goes deep within our very soul.

We are not the only profession who would like to skip the ears. In medicine, many people who very sick cry out in pain alone. A call button is pressed and a nurse will check the bolus amount. An order will be placed for increased morphine while the patient writhes alone in pain.

As a relatively young and healthy woman, childbirth is the worst physical pain I have endured. I had two boys using the techniques of natural childbirth. My first son was born at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Lawrence, Kansas. There the nurses were completely supportive of my choice and my husband as at my side throughout most of labor. The pain was bad but bearable, and we even laughed and told jokes to each other.

My second labor was in very different hospital. Here I was left alone on a gurney for a few hours whilst waiting for a delivery room. My husband was at home with our sick son. When I was finally given a room, I had to stop a nurse from putting pitocin in my line. She left the room in a huff. She left me alone, the call button out of reach while in active labor.

The pain was excruciating and no one was listening to me. I did not want pain medication. I wanted a hand to hold. I wanted someone to take the time to be with me.

I wanted ears.

Recently, I had the honor of painting a jacket for Dr. Richard Payne. Dr. Payne has a background in neuro-oncology. He practiced for many years and saw patients whose pain was not controlled. He learned from his patients that some pain could only be treated through listening. Rather than "medicalizing" patients he focuses on healing them. Healing rarely means curing in the world of brain cancer. It means treating the whole person in all their pain. Dr. Payne now focuses on palliative care and how it can be used to extend life and make life worth living.

So this is Richard's jacket, "Listen to me."

On this jacket, a series of ears are being used as hammocks. Patients lay within these cradling ears. Each patient has a doctor at their side, and the doctor is actively listening. It is a beautiful summer day and each hammock is attached to a poppy flower. The milk of the poppy is used to help each person reach a comfort level where the rest of healing is accomplished through listening and caring.

The background sky is a series of swirls. Swirls are a symbol of life itself. For there is love and light in this painting, and living while dying.

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