Creativity in the Waiting Room

UCSF Benioff’s Children’s Hospital

The sight of the Kids & Art team, in our bright orange shirts, and the glimpse of art materials laid out on the table are enough to bring most participants heading our way. This includes patients, siblings and family members. Faces light up, smiles abound and creative minds get busy. The benefits can be seen on eager faces, in the sense of pride in their art, and the release of stress and worry. Tiredness, boredom, illness, anxiety are reduced and confidence and calmness are increased.

However, there is a lot of coming and going in the waiting room and there is a great deal of hanging around, waiting for treatment, results and medical information. A child is unwell. Emotions of family members can be running high. The Kids & Art team brings compassion and mindfulness to this situation and sets the scene for a supportive space for creativity in the hospital environment. We hope to reach as many families as we can while we are there. So, when we sense it is appropriate, we also reach out to the children who are more hesitant, or to those having treatment in the infusion room.

One time, a young boy joined us after his appointment and told me he was unhappy. Who wouldn’t be unhappy, he said, if they’d had needles stuck in them? No, he did not want to do the project. But, he continued to sit with us, head down. After some gentle encouragement, he started to scribble, then draw, then paint in silence. Then, he started chatting, opening up, enjoying the process of choosing colors and meticulously working out his painting. He decided to paint his name in Japanese. He told me he felt calm. When he left, with his head held high, he carried his two paintings, clearly feeling an enormous sense of accomplishment. Maybe the memory of the art outweighed those of the appointment, just a little. I hope so.

Another time, a boy who was in the infusion room, and hooked up to his IV, was clearly not feeling well. He quietly accepted the project and I was surprised to see that he sat for over an hour working on it. No words were spoken. He was lost in the process, engrossed, and I could sense he had escaped to a different place for a short time. It was evident to me that this had brought him much comfort. This was his space for self-expression and the result was beautiful. I was impressed with the delicate technique he had used with the colored pencils.

Whether our workshop helps a parent because it stops a sibling from running around the waiting room, or the project is a fun, creative distraction during a long wait for a family, clearly it is impactful. And, to see a patient entering the calmness and mindfulness of the creative process and witness them feeling a sense of wellbeing during this time is very touching. To be a part of making this kind of difference to kids touched with cancer is humbling. And, working with such a compassionate group is a privilege.

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