Artwork helps patients cope

    The lobby of the Perelman Center is grand. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s new cancer treatment facility in University City has a three story atrium with tiered balconies and see-through elevators.

    But when it opened two years ago, some knocked it as sterile. All that glass, all that beige. So to make the space more welcoming, the hospital installed sculptures.

    Zelesnick: I always find myself looking at that one over there – it looks like a lobster trap or something like that.

    Sean Zelesnick spends a lot of time inside a lot of hospitals because he fixes ultrasound medical equipment. That sculpture of twisted metal and corrugated fencing is meant to amuse, as are most of the other 9 sculptures. Vice president Judy Schueler points above her head to another sculpture – a ring of 130 wine bottles half-filled with a white opaque liquid, hung from the ceiling on a tilt. It’s called “Spilt Milk.”

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    Schueler: One of our patients facing a very challenging disease looked up and smiled and said, “Split Milk. Sort of the story of my life this year.” Humor is a powerful healer.

    The hospital installed these sculptures to be interesting – not therapeutic. But providing distraction amid a medical nightmare can actually help.Dan Andress has been accompanying his wife to the Perelman Center almost every month for exams and procedures.

    Andress: It kind of takes your mind off other things that might be troubling you at that point. I’m looking at this and I’m not so concerned as to why we’re actually here.The new Pavilion at the Paoli Hospital on the Main Line has adopted a similar philosophy. Paoli hired a consultant to choose art for the walls that would not just look pretty, but also actively promotes recovery. So far the research into the effectiveness of art in hospitals is more anecdotal than scientific, but area hospitals are willing to invest in the idea.

    In the lobby of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is a large kinetic sculpture. Colored golf balls continuously fall through a whimsical array of tracks and spirals and triggers.

    Freilick: You first hear it, because you can hear it from all the way down the hallway.Hayley Freilick is a project manager at CHOP, and was a frequent patient as a child due to a heart condition.Freilick: You wonder what’s making that odd but fantastic noise.  As a child, definitely I would ask my mom if we could go see it. I’ve seen children do the same today. Now, after work I’ll sit on one of the benches and watch it.Walk deeper into the hospital – into the small rooms filled with equipment where the painful business of health care is done – the art becomes more purposeful.Sedation rooms are where a child is prepared for invasive procedures. In many of CHOP’s sedations room, abstract paintings are suspended above the bed and illuminated from behind.  In one room, the painting’s thick swirls of greens and blues are meant to mesmerize. Hospital staffer Kelly Mignona says the glowing painting has a calming effect.Mignona: All of these things become really scary. There’s a lot of wires and medical equipment that can be scary to children. So a lot of times I’ll walk around and shut all the lights off and put these on. It changes the mood immediately.While the child’s medication is kicking in, a nurse will talk the child through a guided make-believe, encouraging the patient to look into the brushstrokes to find lizards and gardens and spaceships.Mignona:The medications definitely enhance visuals for these patients! It’s pretty interesting the things they come up with. There’s an oral relaxant medicine we give – we call it giggly juice. It’s always that thing that lets patients into a realm of exploring and imagining.At CHOP, researchers are gathering objective, quantifiable information about the paintings’ anti-anxiety benefits, to determine exactly what kind of art makes a person … comfortably numb.

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