Baton Rouge General is coloring outside the lines with its newest therapy.
Grown-ups at the hospital are receiving coloring books created by the Arts in Medicine program, a new tool meant to calm patients and their families during stressful times, said Kim Henderson, the program supervisor.
“We all go too fast all the time,” Henderson said. “This might help people slow down and remember what it’s like to color as a child.”
Designed by both artists who volunteer with the Arts in Medicine program and patients, the coloring books are filled with pleasant scenes — ponds with lily pads and a comfortable room full of books — and whimsical designs, including a Mardi Gras mask and a mandala.
“Some of the pages are really quirky,” Henderson said. “They’re cute and the artists who drew those are quirky. Their personalities are in the pages they drew.”
Since Christmas, Henderson and the artists that work and volunteer at the hospital have distributed the coloring books to patients in the burn unit as a pilot program. A few others have received them to test the new concept before it goes hospital-wide, and they are on sale in the hospital gift shop for $10.
Last week, Elren Waddell, 61, a nurse supervisor at The General receiving treatment for septic shock syndrome, was given a book and colored pencils to try it out. Coloring helped get her mind off the weeks she has spent in the hospital.
“When you create, it helps you drift away from the things you don’t want to deal with,” she said, sitting in her hospital bed coloring a daisy in the book.
Lately Waddell has refreshed her coloring skills with her grandchildren, and she enjoys the simple act.
“You can at least dream about it being pretty instead of it being so rough,” she said.
The coloring book project began when an Arts in Medicine volunteer saw adult-focused coloring books growing popular at bookstores and online and pitched the idea of a coloring book therapy program. Henderson liked the idea but wanted the hospital community to create its own book.
Last fall, Henderson approached artists and a few talented patients about contributing, and she chose 26 pieces.
“There are some that are simple, but some people don’t want to color something simple,” she said. “I think it’s a nice variety.”
Several are Louisiana-themed, with bayous and Acadian homes. The last page of the book has a blank circle meant for creating your own mandala, a circular design of geometric patterns.
The most prolific contributor to the book is Muriel Prejean, a patient who receives treatment for a rare eye disease that causes a “haze” to form across her vision. Prejean, 71, of St. Amant, has loved painting for decades, but her illness made it difficult to open her eyes.
An artist working with the Arts in Medicine program helped her begin painting again. “I can’t tell you how much that mattered to me because I love to paint,” she said.
Prejean created several coloring book pages, some complex, some simple. Henderson chose 12 of hers.
“Some of hers very much look like a painting, but it’s a sketch drawing,” Henderson said. “The person coloring it can feel, ‘Oh, wow, I’m adding the color to this painting.’”
While Prejean loved making the coloring book pages, she has not picked up a coloring book yet. She is painting every chance she gets. “That’s my whole joy in life,” she said. “I tell my husband I wouldn’t want to live if I can’t paint.”
By letting others fill in the colors to her sketches, Prejean said she hopes that they can feel what she feels, a love of creating art.