A hospital is not an art museum, but it can be

STEEPED BY SAMIA #4 | 8.23.22
CW Note: This post mentions some heavy experiences of having a parent with a life-threatening illness/cancer and visiting them at the hospital.

In April, my Abu was in the hospital for a month, receiving treatment for AML Leukemia. Due to his immunocompromised state, he couldn’t really go outside; but he was encouraged to walk around the hospital department. On our first walk, I noticed the framed photographs and artwork on the walls. I turned to him and said, “We can pretend we’re in an art museum!” He laughed.

My Abu, evidently, isn’t an “art museum” person. Whenever I pointed to something and marveled out loud, he would nod along and keep walking. Art, to him, is the ancient redwood trees of Yosemite and the enchanting architecture of mosques around the world.

I continued on with my make-believe. Observing the colors, themes, composition, and lighting of a piece. Pinpointing how it made me feel — or didn’t make me feel. Some frames have little white tags next to them, stating the title, artist, and sometimes where the artist is located. These art pieces have stories behind them. And they somehow found their way into a hospital, breaking up the monotony of the white and beige vicinity.

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Textured paper layered with pastel-colored shapes. A Van Gogh poster with swirls of blue, green, and yellow. Abstract paintings. Impressionism paintings. A giant butterfly composed of newspaper, bottle caps, and paper mache. Photography of scenic places: a waterfall, a skyline, a lake, a barn. A wooden boat next to a dock. A sprawling meadow with a blue sky. A poster of different kinds of roses that are labeled. Frames of poetry interspersed with frames of photography. A dandelion. A cluster of giant sunflowers. The phases of the moon.

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“When you’re in the hospital for that long,” my Abu would say, “You don’t really know what day it is.”

The time of day, the days of the week, sunrise and sunset. It all starts to feel the same. Time loses its meaning, its consistency. It all muddles together like different colors of clay. In one of my Abu’s hospital rooms, there was a clock on the wall with hands that spun around too quickly. It made us laugh — “We’re time traveling!” — but it was also kind of symbolic.

“I didn’t get a good night’s sleep in over a month,” he would say. There’s a chuckle in his voice.

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It’s the end of July. My Abu is back in the hospital, this time one that specializes in bone marrow transplants. When he found out that he would be: a.) in the hospital for a month and b.) had to go through chemo, he was nervous to do it all over again.

We shuffle around his department with his IV pole in tow, around and around. He wears one of those heavy duty respirator masks. There are European art posters with words like “THE RENAISSANCE” on the walls. They remind me of a 90’s school library. We watch marathons of HGTV and Food Network shows. I think Guy Fieri is growing on him.

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I search up “art work in hospitals” and come across an article in The New Yorker: “What Should Hang on the Walls of a Hospital?” Lou Stoppard explores the differing ways that patient advocates see the function and intention of art in hospitals and what art should look like in hospitals. Stoppard writes:

“Judy Rollins asks what the function and style of art in hospitals are and should be. Soothing or challenging? Figurative or abstract? Some advocate for the calming power of nature scenes, while others push for works of gallery quality: rousing, conceptual, complex.”

“What Should Hang on the walls of a Hospital?” by Lou Stoppard / The New Yorker

Art can be a tool. A moment of pause. A source of escapism. A way to seek clarity or meaning. To appreciate beauty in an unlikely setting. To feel a sense of hope. To be pensive about life’s big and real questions. To be given permission to look away. To accept. To heal.

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Art as a welcomed distraction: I remember getting my booster shot at my pediatrician’s office before starting kindergarten. The nurse pointed to a framed Mickey Mouse poster on the wall and said, “Look at the Mickey Mouse, Samia~!” I looked at Mickey Mouse right as she stuck the needle into my shoulder. I clutched my Ammi’s hand and grimaced. She got me good!

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We know one or have one: an immigrant father who seldom shares how he’s feeling. A journal entry from April tells me that the words were caught in my throat. I’m feeling this right now, too. Seeing my Abu in different shades of health and not knowing truly how his heart and mind were bearing it.

“But, like, what are you really feeling?” I look for hints in facial expressions and in between words and pauses.

“Whatever that’s happened and will happen are already written by Allah (SWT),” he says. “It’s in His hands.”

Islam gives my Abu a framework to navigate difficult moments. In a way, his faith in his faith also gives me faith. I’m learning to accept that, as his daughter, being present is the best thing I can do. There’s nothing to fix. It’s all a process.

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We are waiting for the bone marrow stem cells to graft. They collected the stem cells from my Abu’s sister and transplanted them into him almost 3 weeks ago. His blood counts are steadily increasing, which is a great sign!

I spend the warmest hours of every week day with my Abu. At the end of each visit, it’s a strange feeling to walk out of the hospital main entrance and emerge into the early evening. To feel the breeze on my skin, to see the sunlight filtering through the trees. Sometimes, life feels a little more splendorous or bittersweet. One day closer to Abu walking out of those doors with me. I join the bustle of people on their way home. —S.A.


Steep On This: 


Catch Up:

7.11.22 | Editorializing my life: Notes from a constant ruminator

STEEPED BY SAMIA #3: Every time period in our lives carries a certain atmosphere — but we never know what the present will feel like, as it’s happening.


About This Blog:

Steeped by Samia is a space where I can simmer on thoughts & curiosities in the scope of digital culture, creativity, life, & more. Far too often, my writing ideas fizzle out in energy; I never get to see them to their full potential. While building my rhythm with writing, I want to share these ideas with you. 

Stay Up-To-Date on my blog by clicking the ‘follow’ button at the bottom of the page, and you will receive an email every time I post. I aim to post a new installment at least once or twice a month. Thank you for supporting my storytelling! 🧡

10 Comments

  1. Sandra says:

    Thank you for sharing this personal story with us. It is beautifully written (as always). My thoughts and prayers are with your family, your Abu and of course you. I love reading your prose. Take care. Hugs. –

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    1. samiaabbasi says:

      Thank you, Sandra!! I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog. I hope you’re taking care! Sending hugs ❤

      Like

  2. Long time reader, first time commenter says:

    Thank you for being for sharing your story and being so vulnerable! I am sure that your Abu and the rest of your family take great comfort in the axiomatic love, care, thoughtfulness, time, and energy you put into being there for him. I hope that you can take some solace in that as well. My thoughts are with you and your family. On the train, I want to get off at Palo Alto to shout words of support into the ether. You can tell me how useful that is. Haha. Anyways, I hope you have enough time for your mental health activities, such as your page-turning blog!

    p.s. I just continued reading crying in h mart yesterday after a long break! We will have to debrief at some point.

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    1. samiaabbasi says:

      This comment means so much, thank youu! I had to look up “axiomatic,” what a word omg.

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      1. Veteran commenter says:

        Haha. Apparently, the definition of axiomatic is not axiomatic. I must just use that word to sound pretentious.

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      2. Nisar Shaikh says:

        Awesome, beautiful and more.
        I had just spent the day at Getty museum, and reading it gave me an additional dimension of art appreciation.

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      3. samiaabbasi says:

        Thank you for reading this and for all your support, Babumama!🧡

        Like

  3. looks.by.ren says:

    Really beautifully written and what a lovely observation about the ways art is made available for us to find comfort in distress, just as it likely provided comfort to the artist themselves. 💕

    Like

    1. samiaabbasi says:

      Thank you for reading, Ren, and I love what you pointed out about the artist’s own healing!❤️

      Like

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