Where's Alex? By Dr. Mary Black

Mary is a public health doctor and a Paintings in Hospitals trustee. “Tell the truth, and use numbers to help you,” is her philosophy. In this story she explores how art can restore us.

Alex Stirling (2020) by Jane FerdinandoPaintings in Hospitals

We call it the ‘Choreography of the day’

We meet every morning and afternoon meetings in Public Health Scotland. Since February 2020. We review the new cases, the deaths, the outbreaks, and more recently the vaccination numbers. As a team we decide what we will do next, connect to other teams throughout the day, across Scotland, the UK, out into the wider world. It is intense, you must concentrate and pick up problems to solve.

‘Have a look at the Healthcare Heroes Online Gallery'

I said at the end of one meeting. "It’s wonderful… and I’m one of the portraits,’ said Dr Alexandra Stirling, one of my team. ‘Where are you? Which one is you?’ came the chorus of online comments and voices from the Incident Room." I posted the link, and a game of Where’s Wally began as everyone searched for Alex.

The Diversity of the Faces

As I scrolled through the hundreds of portraits I was bowled over by the diversity of the faces. The techniques used by each artist made my connection immediate. I could imagine lives, shifts, families through those images. Even the sea of NHS blue had rainbows throughout. It buoyed me to know each of those people would have my back at work and care for me if I got ill.

A Doctor and an Artist

I learned that day Alex, herself an artist had put her own visual arts sabbatical on hold to work an 80 hour week as part of the health protection team for Scotland. I learned that Alex was the one who had knitted small animals that sit beneath the large screen we use twice a day to hold health protection meetings across Scotland.

One day, I hope that Dr Alexandra Stirling will find the time and the space to paint and draw again. Because art is what will restore us.

Sunrise Orwell Estuary, Suffolk (1991) by Maggi HamblingPaintings in Hospitals

Five Generations

The Healthcare Heroes exhibition made me appreciate the significance of my own family history – five generations of doctors, and between us an almost continuous working contribution since the start of the NHS. 

Relentless Work

It made me look again at each of my colleagues and wonder about their lives, about what they had put on hold to do the relentless, exhausting work, late into the night, as the numbers kept climbing, searching for clues, for answers, for anything we could do to turn the pandemic off.

Emotional Connection

The emotional connection through the brush marks and the pencil lines, as the artist gaze engages with a sitter engagement, was immediate.

‘Clear Moment I' and '...II' by Charlotte Cornish (2011) by Ted AllenPaintings in Hospitals

Our Collection of Art has Made a Difference

As a trustee of Paintings in Hospitals I know that our art has made a difference. I imagine a patient admitted in extremis catching sight of a painting, glimpsing a colour or texture that is not plastic or a disinfected surface, finding comfort in a work of art as they recover, or face death.

Landscapes in the Lobby

 I envisage a nurse exhausted after 12 hours swathed in the barriers of plastic that keep NHS staff safe restored by the sight of another world in landscape in the lobby. I hope that relatives unable to visit gain comfort that someone tried an often frightening place that little bit more human. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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