Improving the hospital experience for young patients

This month our Author of the Month champions Hannah Doty, founder of V.I.P. Hospital Productions and creator of workbooks to help children and teens going through medical journeys. A survivor of childhood cancer, Doty shares with us her insights into how the arts help improve the hospital experience. Through her organization's nonprofit branch, Doty creates customized short comedy films for children in treatment as funds allow at no charge to the family. Doty's activity books help children hang onto a sense of themselves and help them relate more positively with medical staff and the hospital setting. The books immerse children in creative self-exploration. A portion of the funds from the sale of the books goes to pay for a V.I.P. film customized for a hospitalized child.

Hannah Doty, Exeutive Director -- V.I.P. Hospital Productions

Art is a wound turned into light -- Georges Braque

When I was eight years old I was diagnosed with Burkett’s Lymphoma. I was in and out of the hospital for about a year receiving treatment. I found that the arts played a large part in helping me cope during that time in my life. Although I did not have the benefit of being involved in a program like Kids & Art, I wanted to share my own experience to shed light on how the arts can personally empower other hospitalized kids.

The arts are a way to build positive moments

With Family: When “normal” family moments like eating dinner together or going to a baseball game are often replaced with a new routine and/or conversations that revolve around shots or icky medicine, art projects can often provide a moment of normalcy and fun.

Instead of focusing on all the things I couldn’t do because I was in the hospital, doing art projects with my parents or sister was something we discovered we could always do no matter where I was. To be able to focus on a specific creative task let us be in the moment and enjoy our time together and also served as an escape from the stress we were all experiencing. I have very fond memories of decorating a special nightlight with my dad, doing crafts with my mom in the playroom, and finger painting with my sister. I’m grateful that as I reflect back on that time when I was battling with my illness, there are many positive memories like these that out weigh the negative.

With medical staff: Meeting new doctors and nurses all the time can be stressful for kids, especially as they try to navigate the unfamiliar hospital environment.

My parents encouraged me to start a scrapbook when I first began my treatment. I decorated one of the pages with stickers of medical supplies and asked doctors and nurses to sign my scrapbook. I made a creative game out of meeting new people. As I added more pages to my scrapbook, I enjoyed showing my drawings and pictures to everyone who came in contact with me. I didn’t know it then, but my scrapbook became a tool to engage with doctors and other medical personnel in a way that made them less scary to me. I was so focused on my creative endeavors that I wasn’t thinking about what all the (sometimes unpleasant) things that medical personnel needed from ME, but rather the fun and imaginative things I had decided I needed from them in order to help me complete my project.

The arts provide a way to have control over situations

While going through uncomfortable procedures or tests during my treatment, I found ways to have “creative control” over these events that I knew were really out of my control. Knowing that after a procedure or test was finished that I could add it to my “Bravery List” or draw about it in my scrapbook gave me something to look forward to. I found creative ways to turn CAT scan pictures, EKGs and other medical documents into colorful collages and proudly displayed my list of medical accomplishments.

Another book I created was a “Hospital Joke Book” with colorful drawings depicting things that bothered me. By making jokes and illustrating them, I was able to find humor in my situation and express myself in a constructive way. Annoying things about being in the hospital became a creative inspiration instead of just an overwhelming frustration. One joke I remember from my book is one most people can immediately relate to: What do doctors and the energizer bunny have in common? They keep asking the same question over and over and over again….

performing an interactive improv with ideas from patient audiences. the production was broadcast on the hospital network at Long Island's Steven and Alexandra Cohen Medical Center

performing an interactive improv with ideas from patient audiences. the production was broadcast on the hospital network at Long Island's Steven and Alexandra Cohen Medical Center

The arts offered a way to be able to express and share who I was aside from my illness

Overall, the arts provided me with a way to keep being “Hannah” and not just a cancer patient. Even before I was sick, I would make up stories and illustrate them, I would proudly show my school art projects to guests when they came over for dinner, and I would put on plays with my friends and have my mom film us. Continuing this creative play and engaging in artistic activities while I was sick, allowed me to still feel like myself and share who I was with doctors and other medical people. I think this ability to still be oneself when fighting an illness is crucial for kids. To have fun, laugh and create might seem like simple things, but I know they helped me get through some difficult times.