Exhibit review: The 7,024th Patient


A doctor and fellow visitors enter the exhibit at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (Jean Ko Din / Ryersonian staff)

Art should provoke thought and emotion within its viewer. Ryerson School of Nursing professor Jennifer Lapum decided that her research study should have the same impact.

The 7,024th Patient, a new exhibit at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, launched on Tuesday and is an “arts-informed, narrative study” that explores a patients’ experiences following open-heart surgery.

Sixteen individuals participated in Lapum’s study, requiring them to go through a two-part interview process and keep a personal diary during their recovery. Their stories inspired an immersive exhibit of poetry and photography, which guides viewers through the emotional journey of a typical patient.

Moving past the entrance, viewers enter into where the patient’s experience begins. Poems and photographs are sewn into the white fabric walls, which are lit with a cold, blue light to imitate hospital curtains. At this stage, viewers recount the frantic thoughts of a patient contemplating the possibility of death as they prepare themselves for surgery.

Continuing into the maze, viewers reach the centrepiece where the silence becomes deafening. In the middle of the room is a small circular table, imitating an operating table.

The lighting becomes warmer as viewers then leave the operating room, giving them the sense of awakening. As the maze leads to the patient’s journey home, the fabric walls begin to hold more shape and colour. However, the poems and photographs continue to depict uneasiness in the patients, as they try to adapt to their new life post-surgery.

Lapum says that the most important thing that she wanted her art to create is an immersive environment. “I wanted them to almost feel the surgery,” she said. “You come out [of the maze] the same way you came in, but you’ve changed.”

In her research, Lapum found that all the patients went through the same emotional and psychological struggles. Through this exhibit, she hopes to conduct a second study that explores how the installation influences current practitioners’ approaches to patient care.

“Most of the time, physical ailments take precedence over the emotional and psychological,” said Lapum. “Patients want practitioners to recognize that they are unique human beings, not just one of 7,000 patients.”

Lapum first published her research findings in 2008. A year later, she decided to present her study through art. She recruited fellow Ryerson professors Kathryn Church, who had experience in disseminating research through art, and Alison Matthews David, who specializes in fashion and the esthetic movement.

Lapum also recruited current cardiovascular physicians Dr. Gideon Cohen of Sunnybrook Hospital and Dr. Terrence Yau and nurse Linda Liu of Toronto General Hospital.

On the creative team, Lapum wrote all the poems, based on actual quotes from patient interviews and journals. She worked closely with design strategist Perin Ruttonsha and photographer Gary Barjarow to build and create the exhibit.

The exhibit will run until March 16 at the McLaughlin Auditorium, in the E-Wing of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. The event is free and open to the public all day. For more information, visit the website at The7024thPatient.com.

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