Date Night in dialysis ward

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 28, 2020

Doug Driediger committed himself to being at his wife Gayle’s bedside and doing a “Date Night” sketch-a-visit while she underwent dialysis. When COVID-19 restrictions prevented him from being physically at her bedside any longer, he took photos of her before dropping her off at the ward and did his sketches at home while waiting to pick her up. Recently he’s also been sketching some of his hope-affirming backyard feathered friends, such as this Red-breasted Nuthatch.
Art photos by Doug Driediger, collage by Warren Harbeck

Many of our readers have been responding with ways in which arts and crafts have served them uplifting Cups of Light during the coronavirus pandemic. This week popular public artist Doug Driediger, Calgary, shares with us how making “Date Night” bedside sketches of his ailing wife, Gayle, has served them hope and peace during a particularly stressful time.

He’d been posting many of the sketches on his Facebook and Instagram pages, with captions such as: “Gayle. Date Night. All good! An ongoing bedside residency in the Dialysis Ward, hoping to be completed in the transplant ward.” But then mid-March the images took a new direction, with captions, such as: “Gayle. Date Night. Not good! No longer allowed bedside.”

When I asked Doug what the rest of the story was behind Gayle’s Date Night episodes, something I might share with our other coffee companions, he happily agreed.

In January 2018, Gayle, a long-term diabetic, had “a near-death experience, when almost everything shut down. Darkest day of my life,” he says. Her kidneys were particularly affected. While awaiting transplant surgery when it’s safe, she’s been undergoing two three-hour dialysis treatments a week, at first at the Foothills Hospital, and more recently at the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre.

They decided to journalize her visits with sketches Doug would make at her bedside, over 220 so far.

“When they began, in the Foothills, we were both pretty traumatized,” Doug says. “The technology, nurses, docs, alerts, etc., made me pretty ragged. I wanted to draw it all, to help understand it, her, and me. The drawings were ink for the first year and a half: clean, neat, precise. In hindsight, echoing the clinical nature of our new normal? As I’ve become more relaxed, the drawings are less about the machinery and bandages, and much more about my beautiful partner: her strength, courage, and grace under pressure. Pencil, charcoal, pastel, some paint, colour document this emotional transition.”

Enter Covid-19 precautions! No longer allowed bedside, Doug takes photos of Gayle before dropping her off and makes sketches from them at home while waiting to pick her up.

“Gayle’s always enthusiastic to see what I’ve done. (She’s been my model and muse for 39 years of marriage now.) When I was drawing on the ward, I’d often show the attending nurses and fellow patients the night’s work, trying to bring a little light to a rather sad (dark?) place. I miss not being up there with her now!”

When I asked Doug how this whole experience has been a Cup of Light to him personally, he responded: “As an artist, I have the privilege of sharing what inspires me. Although I struggle with fear, I choose to celebrate hope and love.”

The return of birds to Doug and Gayle’s backyard has provided additional colourful Cups of Light lately, and Doug hasn’t resisted sketching their hope-affirming presence. “Artists, through metaphor, or representation, or abstraction, can bring a voice to things we long for. I hope that might be said for some of my work.”

Yes, Doug, it certainly can. Thank you for these Cups of Light.

(On a related note, back in 2007 Doug did a self-portrait every week for a year while recovering from surgery for prostate cancer. I shared that story in my July 20, 2011 column, “Artist celebrates listening with heart, pen and brush.”)


© 2020 Warren Harbeck

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