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An Anesthesiologist Paints Her COVID-19 Experience

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

This is part of the Medical Humanities series on Op-Med, which showcases creative work by Doximity members. Do you have a creative work related to your medical practice that you’d like to share? Send it to us here.

Click here to expand the full painting, “Prone.”

What inspired you to create this painting?

My inspiration was my patients who for the most part were dying from COVID-19. It seemed fitting to memorialize them and what we all went through in some way.

The COVID patients inspired me to paint some bleak pictures because the whole time was so lonely and dark for all. The patients could not have visitors. As physicians and nurses, we could not communicate with the sickest ones because they were in medically induced comas. Discussing their prognosis over the phone with family members who could not conceive of what actually was going on was extremely difficult. I had thought that if they could actually see their loved one and what they were going through they would understand more fully.

How long have you been painting? What got you started?

I have been painting on and off for 30 years. Mostly off. I first started painting in college and went a long time without it and started back in 2017. I have had more time in the last couple of years so I started back. My mother was a painter and there were always artists and paints around the house.

What prompted you to pick up the paintbrush again? 

I was working in Academics at University of Minnesota evenings and nights and spent many nights waiting for a transport helicopter to land. Unable to rest or sleep waiting for extremely ill patients to arrive, I began to doodle and paint in watercolor again. 

Why did you choose this medium? What interests you about it?

I chose acrylics because I have just started using them and I love them. They are quick and fast and the color is true. When it doesn’t work out you just paint over them and the opacity works well.

What would you say is about painting that expresses your feelings more than say poetry or photography?

I enjoy both poetry and photography — but have never done either myself. Poetry is beautiful and seems often to emerge out of the person writing it much like a painting would for me. I have zero talent with planning or taking photos. The technical aspects of cameras — even iPhone cameras — is confusing to me

How does this submission relate to your medical practice? 

This is a self-portrait. I worked in many ICUs with FEMA directed necessity across the country for COVID-19 care.

Could you walk us through what is happening in this painting?

This prone COVID-19 patient had just had an ultrasound of his chest to determine if he had a pneumothorax. He also was on maximal vent support and was determined not to survive.

You previously painted a scene of your mentor. What were your thoughts as you chose to paint a self-portrait? How did you choose this scene?

It was a photo that was taken by one of the nurses when I was dressed up in full powered air-purifying respirator. I felt bad for him as he was made comfort care and was not going to survive. I also try to talk to the patients even though they are sedated and paralyzed because I am never sure how much they know and how much they can hear. The only thing I can give my patients in such a position is compassion and empathy. Nothing else matters at this point.

Caroline Ferris a critical care/anesthesiologist who was in academic medicine for about 17 years. She does mostly locums, is the mother of twin 11-year-olds, and lives in Dallas.

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