An art therapist turned University Hospitals’ daily COVID-19 screening stickers into amazing artwork

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Posted at 10:44 PM, Feb 15, 2022

CLEVELAND — Michelle Chavez is an art therapist at University Hospitals’ Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.

She has a dual credential in counseling and art therapy.

“Art-making and the creative process helps people move through their mental blocks, or their trauma, or their depression and stress because art-making is an inherently human thing to do. It’s something that feels really good to everyone. We learn how to do it at a really young age,” she said.

Her job is to take a negative experience or feeling and help turn it into a positive, using art.

There’s no doubt that her job, along with every other healthcare worker, got harder throughout the pandemic, creating a bit more negative situations than usual.

At the start of COVID-19, University hospitals began to screen their staff daily for COVID-19 symptoms.

“When we cleared that screening, we’d get a little nickel-size sticker and every day there is a different color and they have a different date written on it that corresponds to what day it is to let people know you’ve been screened,” said Chavez.

But the stickers from previous days stuck around.

“About a month and a half after we started getting screened at the door, I noticed people were putting their stickers in really weird places. The lamppost out front of Rainbow is now covered, but at the time, it had just started. People were covering elevator buttons with them and people had huge stacks with them on their badges,” she said. “I just through people don’t want to throw these away. They symbolize something.”

Chavez did what she’s trained to do: turned what couldn’t quite be said into art.

“I drew almost like a paint by number, fill-in-the-color poster, so, people could take their sticker from the day and stick it on there,” she said.

David Miller is the Medical Director for Pediatric Integrative Medicine at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. He said as the days of the pandemic dragged on, the exhaustion and stress mounted for everyone.

“There was definitely a heavy burden on the providers and everyone involved to try to, you know, keep a stiff upper lip and keep going forward. I think that the families and patients had that too with visitation limitations and being alone and being isolated.”

But as the sticker posters started to create a complete image, it was a good reminder that they’re all in it together.

“The stickers sort of have this, in a sense, a little bit of like a negative feeling attached to them, right? Because it's really tightly tied to the coronavirus and feeling like, ‘Are we safe? Are we not safe?’ He said. “What they did with them is really a transformation of something negative into something positive.”

Chavez started putting different poster outlines in various common areas throughout the hospital.

“At the end of the day, we would stick our sticker up on there. Our response was really overwhelming with the people that wanted to participate. I would draw these posters for different departments that wanted to participate I’d ask them what theme they wanted to do,” she said.

There are now 16 full sticker posters throughout University Hospitals. The pictures range from landscapes to famous people’s portraits, to recreations of Van Gogh’s work.

“It's fascinating to think that each of those numbers represents a single day. So you see day after day after day, month after month after month of the growth. They represent how long we've been at this,” said Miller.

The posters are 16 perfect examples of while we can all feel a bit alone navigating through uncertainty, the big picture is that we are really all going through it together.

“You get your screening alone, but there’s thousands of other employees with them who are also getting the screening sticker at the door every morning but when you see them all up on the wall like that you think, ‘Oh, wait. We’ve been doing this together all along and we’re going to continue to do this together going forward,’ maybe they don’t feel so alone,” said Chavez.

Rainbow’s Art Therapy Dept. will be auctioning off some of the pictures in a raffle in March with the proceeds benefiting the Art Therapy Dept. of the hospital.