Visions of Peaceful Comfort

—By Sunny Cook—

Imagine you are sitting next to a loved one who is lying in a hospital or hospice bed.

You are aware of the sounds. Carts clatter by, laden with trays of food or medicine. You hear loudspeakers call this or that doctor. You hear the occasional ‘pings’ or beeps of various medical machines from up and down the hallways, and the constant sound of rubber-soled staff members’ shoes, briskly squeaking on waxed floors. You hear brief segments of strangers’ conversations through the Doppler effect, gradually becoming louder as they walk close to your door, then fading away as they walk farther down the hall.

Back Lit Mind’s Eye Window. Artwork: “Russet Grass” by Lorraine Plaxico In Radiation Treatment Room, Weaverville Cancer Center, Weaverville, North Carolina.

Back Lit Mind’s Eye Window. Artwork: “Russet Grass” by Lorraine Plaxico In Radiation Treatment Room, Weaverville Cancer Center, Weaverville, North Carolina.

The room is sterile, and as you look out the window, you see the typical, unattractive scenery of a hospital roof: vents, angular ductwork, and huge, boxy, heating and air conditioning units. You feel so helpless. You want your loved one to feel peaceful and comfortable, but this is such a foreign place, and visiting hours are so short. Living through this scenario with her gravely ill mother gave Lorraine Plaxico, a Weaverville, North Carolina artist, the vision and impetus to begin her unique business, Mind’s Eye Windows. The idea was inspired by something her mother said while in the hospital, recovering from a major surgery in her final years.

At one point, Plaxico’s mother closed her eyes and a beautiful smile spread across her face. Eyes still closed, she said, “Oh Lorraine, I see the mountains of Virginia.” Plaxico was comforted in the obvious peace her mother experienced while ‘seeing,’ in her mind’s eye, a treasured landscape with its many associated memories of happy family reunions.

“Cane River Rapids”

An accomplished artist, Plaxico knew at that moment that creating landscapes to help alleviate the suffering of those who are ill, as well as their caregivers, was her life’s purpose. She felt certain that, for bed-ridden patients in long-term care settings, a view of nature would be a comforting, and perhaps even healing, sight.

Science offers significant studies to support what Plaxico intuitively knew. Research indicates that healing is more rapid when the patient keeps a positive frame of mind. The mind and body connection is no longer a ‘new age’ speculation. In 1979, Norman Cousins wrote his now famous book, Anatomy of an Illness, which documented his healing journey through painful illness. In addition to taking high doses of Vitamin C, he discovered that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter gave him at least two hours of pain-free sleep (without pain medication). This and other work launched a flurry of study into the mind/body connection that continues to this day.

The field of Biophilia, defined as the innate attraction of humans to nature, has been researched for decades by the scientific and design communities. Robert Ulrich, in his classic study in 1984, demonstrated that patients recovering from gallbladder surgery recovered faster when their rooms had a pleasant view of nature.

In the last twenty years, neuroscientists have amassed convincing evidence that natural settings enhance healing.

The book, Healing Spaces, The Science of Place and Well-Being, by Esther M. Sternberg, M.D., is filled with scientific support of the theory that our surroundings, particularly in relation to a setting including nature, can quite literally create healing chemicals in the brain and body.

Window in Patient Room

Window in Patient Room

Plaxico is a rare artist in which both hemispheres of her brain, left/linear and right/creative, are well developed. A successful architectural illustrator, Plaxico excels in straight lines, beautifully rendered for her clients. However, she also enjoys painting outdoors, creating loose, impressionistic landscapes, working directly from nature, or, as the French say, en plein air. Claude Monet and his followers in Paris revered capturing the effects of sunlight on landscapes, which popularized this type of painting at the turn of the twentieth century.

The challenge for most outdoor painters is to capture those fleeting colors and effects before the light changes. Fortunately, Plaxico works quickly and accurately, and her paintings breathe the life they depict.

In pursuing her goal of bringing these landscapes to patients too ill to go outdoors to experience nature themselves, questions arose. How could she help the greatest number of patients? She had to figure out a way to mass-produce a large variety of her paintings. One option was prints, but flat, giclee prints on paper or canvas just didn’t give the experience she wanted for the patients. She wanted them to feel as if they were looking through a window, directly viewing nature, even if their room had no view.

Plaxico first had the idea of printing her landscapes onto clear plexiglass to cover a fluorescent light fixture.
That way, she reasoned, even if the room had no window, the patient could lie in bed and look up at a light-filled landscape overhead and be comforted by a natural scene. And though she still offers that option, she wasn’t satisfied. She wanted her paintings to bring more life to the patients. Outside, light changes on a landscape, bringing endless visual delights, as first one area is highlighted, then another, almost like spotlights on a stage.

Then a light flashed in her head. She got the idea to hang the landscapes directly in patients’ windows. The art would replace an unattractive view, but even more exciting was the anticipated effect. The changing natural daylight coming through the painting fused onto plexiglass would give a similar effect to being in nature! This was the solution she’d hoped for, bringing the aliveness of a real scene in nature, changing throughout the day as the light changes.

Having a great idea is one thing, but turning it into a successful, sustainable business is quite another.

Fortunately, all the left-brain development Plaxico had under her belt as an architectural illustrator served her well in getting her business up and running.

First, she took a business course offered through Mountain BizWorks, a U.S. Treasury nonprofit organization serving western North Carolina. Their program guided Plaxico and the other students through a lengthy step-by-step process to develop workable business plans. The group leader especially encouraged Plaxico about the value of her business idea, having once herself been flat on her back for weeks in a hospital.

Next, Plaxico found and tested the quality and production capabilities of various printing companies to find one that could invariably handle large volume orders accurately and on time while representing her art flawlessly. After spending thousands of dollars and more than two years developing the foundation of her business, she was finally ready to approach potential buyers.

To her relief, her idea has been received enthusiastically. Administrators at hospice and nursing care facilities are excited. Many immediately see the value of Plaxico’s innovation. They resonate with her perfect alignment with their core values and goals for long-term or end-of-life care. She has presented her business and paintings in board meetings and directly to facility decision-makers, and orders are beginning to come in.

Mind’s Eye Windows offers 48 different landscape paintings in various sizes. The options include light fixture covers, window hanging images, and memorial windows with donor inscriptions. For rooms without windows or ones they don’t want to cover, these pieces may also be hung on the wall. The rich, luminous depth of the colors on plexiglass is more attractive and fascinating than prints.

Many nonprofit boards are excited to present the memorial window donor option to their stakeholders. This is an appealing alternative to the inscribed bricks and pavers frequently offered as fundraisers. It not only enables loved ones to publicly honor a departed family member with a lasting work of art, but it also gives donors the added benefit of supporting the facility that cared for their loved one in his or her final days. In gratitude, Plaxico gave an inscribed window in honor of her mother to the hospital that so attentively cared for her.

In the fall of 2014, Plaxico was gratified to learn from architect Steve Bowers that one of her windows was accepted for the new, high-tech Weaverville Cancer Center, which he designed for 21st Century Oncology.

Bowers, an expert in health-care architecture, designed this building to appear to its patients as a welcoming, light-filled, airy healing space, with garden views from the IV treatment room.

What the patients don’t realize is that the building is as strong as a bunker, with concrete walls from four to six feet thick in some areas. Why? Because one treatment room houses a special weapon for the war on cancer: a linear accelerator, a large, high-powered radiation machine.

Inside that treatment room, the patient is carefully positioned on a table, propped and exactingly aligned using lasers, so the tumor can be precisely targeted by a pencil-thin beam of radiation, minimizing collateral damage of surrounding tissue.

After the patient is positioned, everyone leaves the windowless room, closing the 18-inch thick door behind them, leaving the patient in silence, locked in with the giant machine aimed at them. Needless to say, the process could be frightening.

However, these patients may be calmed by seeing one of Plaxico’s nature scene windows, backlit and visible from the treatment table to bring comfort while they undergo this daily treatment.

Plaxico is especially pleased because this is exactly the type of setting in which she envisioned her work. “This is the highest fulfillment for my art, I feel. To bring comfort in times of fear, and peace in times of stress… I can’t imagine a higher purpose,” she said.

Mind’s Eye Windows, offering comfort through art, is the fulfillment of Plaxico’s dream. By bringing comfort to others, her business future is bright.

Sunny Cook is an Asheville writer, editor, publicist, and artist. Although interested in multiple topics, her favorites are natural health and the arts. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

This entry was posted in November 2014 and tagged art, hospice. Bookmark the permalink.

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