Stephen Keable spent seven and a half months at the RHN.
He became a regular user of the Art Room – both as part of his one-to-one occupational therapy art sessions as well as art leisure groups as part of his wider rehabilitation programme.
The RHN has a purpose built, bright and spacious art room used by patients for group and individual sessions, for both rehabilitation and leisure. It provides facilities to support people’s sometimes complex needs including height adjustable tables, adapted equipment, and a minimal distraction room.
Stephen had come to the hospital for rehabilitation following the onset of severe Guillain-Barre Syndrome some months earlier. He had gone to bed with a virus and woke up 3 months later to the news that he was paralysed from the neck down.
He was unable to blink. He needed to re-learn everything.
At first he said he did not wish to participate in the art sessions. But he came back to the table, and he started to draw and create.
This wasn’t just about enjoying an activity however; there were occupational therapy goals from the art work – increasing upper limb coordination, trunk support and self-confidence.
From pencil sketches, Stephen quickly moved on to watercolour painting and mixed media work. He produced an elaborate landscape scene combining elements extracted from a number of source images, each recalling memories of his various travels and activities, revealing Stephen’s adventurous nature and curiosity in the world.
Stephen enjoyed talking through his ideas, as well as producing visual products that people could see. He said,
‘Art inspires you and inspires other people, it’s mood enhancing. I let my mind free during art. It pushes me to do things I wouldn’t normally do. There’s no judgement either, no right or wrong.’
At the same time, his dexterity was improving as he progressively used smaller brushes and produced more detailed work with much straighter lines. He was also starting to walk to his art sessions with a mobility aid.
Stephen became increasingly interested in the work of others and in contributing to the hospital community. He had begun attending art leisure groups and instigated a project that would involve all the patients, staff and volunteers working together and having fun in a ‘team effort’. The outcome of this project – a hanging mobile of an imaginary papier mache solar system, complete with night sky backdrop – was launched in the art room alongside an exhibition of Stephen’s artworks produced during his rehabilitation. Stephen, who had initially been self-critical and reluctant to engage in art, hosted the exhibition, confidently showing off his and the other patients’ work.
Stephen envisaged setting up an art studio when he returned back home. Before he left to go home he said:
‘It’s been emotional, like proper therapy. You brought a quiet, not-wanting-to-do-much Stephen out of his shell.’