Vicki Pedersen's got a healing touch at LDS Hospital.
She's not a doctor or nurse. She's an executive secretary. And her tools are not medications and technology.Instead, she wields a paintbrush and acrylics, painting murals on the walls throughout the hospital in hopes of brightening the place for frightened - or just bored - patients.
Using a lunch hour or a few minutes after work, Pedersen has created five murals throughout the hospital over the past 5 1/2 years.
The first was in a waiting area where people who are scrubbed for surgery wait to meet with their anesthesiologist.
"People are so scared when they wait for surgery," Pedersen said. "And one of the nurses wanted to brighten the place up. She read about a foundation that would put in murals and spent months trying to arrange it, but it didn't work out. Then she tried getting some art students. Nothing worked out."
When the nurse came to report to Pedersen's boss, the hospital administrator, that she hadn't found anyone to do it, Pedersen volunteered.
"I'd never done anything like that," she said. "But I can paint. And I thought I could try."
The waiting area had long walls and on one she painted cumulus clouds in blue sky, hoping to create something soothing. On the opposite wall, she painted a bright sunset.
And she found she thoroughly enjoyed talking to the patients as she worked and they waited.
"They'd relax and get their minds off the upcoming surgery and I got to drip a little paint on them. They loved to talk to me; it distracted them from what they were worrying about. So I just kept painting."'
It's a slow process, because she can usually do it only an hour a week. The hospital buys the acrylic paints (they dry fast and are odorless) and she donates time and talent.
Over time, the murals have become both art and medicine. For instance, she painted a jungle scene in the fourth floor rehab unit, with a variety of animals, birds, fish and plants. Doctors and therapists soon discovered that they could evaluate patients' cognitive and neurological skills by asking them to point out various animals in the painting.
In the hospital's cancer unit, Pedersen painted a patient's cat on a windowsill as part of a mural of a "window looking outside over a beautiful scene." The woman was going to have a bone marrow transplant and the painting of her cat brought something familiar and cherished into a scene where she felt frightened and alone.
For the past two years, Pedersen has labored on a vista looking into the distance at foothills and a mountain. The mural, located on the sixth floor in the transitional care center, includes an elk, an eagle and a fox.
She's almost through with that one and isn't sure what she'll paint next.
But those around her are sure of one thing: Her paintings bring comfort and joy to people who are sick and sometimes lonely.
"For many patients, for whom time passes one IV bag at a time, the murals take them outside their troubles," said Jess Gomez, hospital spokesman.