The girl from the diagnostic ward



A report from Martina Pupcsiková, C4C core team member.

I visit children in hospitals and orphanages with art activities and my book reading project Fairy Tales to Doodle by. The children respond extremely well, they relax, talk and open up their lives While there with them, I listen to many of the children´s stories as well and I meet a lot of different characters:  from timid to aggressive, disabled children, children betrayed, lost, tired or silent.  boys and girls ranging from very young to adolescence. I’m not a psychologist – I don’t treat or cure – I just use art and reading projects to make space for something to bubble up or to let off pressure. I have been doing this work for Dr. Clown since 2018. And I’m still amazed by the situations I encounter.

Last week raised the bar for me again. In various hospitals, I had to focus my attention on children with a propensity for aggression. Someone who throws chairs at a classmate, or a group of ten boys in a child psychiatric ward who attacked each other (the aggressive ones were trying to harm the mentally disabled) and, of all things, I turned up  to read them stories. But, and you’ll be amazed, we DID end up  reading and doing art and so intensively that  after an hour I had to almost forcibly take away  their chalks, tape and crayons, telling them we had to stop. They didn’t want to stop drawing.

That week Ivisited another hospital with a children’s ward where children end up who attempted suicide, before being sent on to oftentimes overcrowded psychiatric wards. Sometimes they stay here for two weeks before they move on.

I recognized her. Or rather, Vanda recognised me. In another hospital I go to regularly, we had already met and worked on art projects together during the winter. She was excited to see me again. The staff at the hospital told me that as soon as she heard about my arrival today, she was the one who recruited the older girls for the art class. And so, thanks to Vanda, I had a table full of teenagers ready to work with me.

Vanda attempted suicide for the fourth time. She looks forward to the hospital and tries to prolong her stay there for as long as possible. She deliberately draws hangings, razor blades and cut hands so that the doctors will show it to the psychologist and she’ll be sent to the psychiatric ward for another month. Vanda is otherwise in a diagnostic facility, and this is her ticket out. I know from the staff at the hospital that Vanda is supposedly aggressive. Her mom disowned her once and she loved her mom. She hurt her siblings to have her mom more to herself. I don’t know and I won’t judge why that was, what the cause and what the effect was, but this girl just attacks people. Now she’s supposedly even attacked the guidance counsellor or the director of the diagnostic institute. With scissors, to keep things simple. She says – I wasn’t even there – this is her standard line. She’s seemingly “cherishing” this reputation – she’s trying to be intolerable, that’s how she makes herself visible. In the hospital, she yells at the nurses for being cows and that she doesn’t like them. Loudly and to her face. I suspect that when she makes her rounds from the hospital to the psych ward and the institution, she’ll try to kill herself again. She has diabetes, but that´s  easy – just more insulin.

The girls who are in the hospitals with her are a little scared of her. She’s always screaming and won’t shut up, asserting herself at all costs. But she keeps on creating – everything that is creative she tries.  Even when she says everything is ugly, she keeps going. Tease her a little. She wants to nag me, “cut my ink, pass me a napkin, ….” – I tell her how she can do it on her own. The teacher from the hospital warns me not to make Vanda angry, that she attacks people – for example, for no other reason than not passing a pencil. But I continue to play an educational role with her – she has to return the stuffed animal that was for all the children and she took it for herself. And then this girl, whom everyone looks at like a demon, sees the book “Fairy Tales to Draw by” in my briefcase and says: “Oh, you gave me this one last time.”

I´m trying to find out, whether she even opened it: “Are you working with it? Do you like it?”

And Vanda exclaims: “Yeah, I read it, it’s great for when I’m depressed.”

For me, this week’s experiences gave me the satisfaction and reaffirmed to me, that my art project in hospitals has a purpose. And that “Fairy Tales to Draw by” really is for everyone – small, big, Mexican villain, people who are sensitive, aggressive and depressed children. For anyone who can read. The book even has extra drawing pages doodling areas where kids can get real – or get mad.

Author: Martina Pupcsiková

(name of the main character is changed)