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Ronald Kisner

Twin rivers flowing, Four hours knowing, Taking, Returning, Life

Daring to Care

All settled in at my Fresenius Medical Center for yet another four-hour dialysis ride. Weight. Check. Pressure—standing, sitting. Check. Needle sticks, chair reclined. Ready. But wait. The nurse is approaching with what appears to be yet another (wait for it)…form! In dialysis, forms are as prevalent as the falling leaves. But this one would surely be different. I, and a few other patients, were being asked to agree to have our portraits drawn right there in the center while on dialysis. What! No chance to scrub, polish dress up?

Turns out that was precisely the point. The Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) had collaborated with the Cleveland Clinic’s Arts & Medicine Institute to launch a project entitled Drawn to Care with the hope of capturing dialysis patients in their natural, frills-free state in the chair. I looked over to my doe-eyed chair mate, Harvey, we measured each other’s gaze and exclaimed “Hey, why not?"

Months would pass without further word. In fact, both Harvey and I figured the project was a bust. But then, on one routine night of dialysis, a sunny, lean, red-head co-ed in jeans, armed with an ipad, sketch pad and pen announced that she was Meghan Sweeney an Institute student assigned to begin sketching her first subject, Harvey.

Weeks later, to my surprise, Meghan, a first-year CIA student from Pennsylvania, would be nestled near my chair ready to sketch my cameo. And she wanted us to talk, not strike a pose—but to talk. And talk we did about her boyfriend back home, her studies, my hypertensive route to dialysis since May, 2014. We talked, and Meghan amazingly sketched. Snapped a headshot with her i-pad and sketched some more.

As our comfort level grew, I made this special request: expose my clamps, blood and fluid lines in my portrait, and allow me to add a brief poetic expression. After getting approval, Meghan returned a third time for final touch-ups and so I wrote:

Twin rivers flowing
Four hours knowing
Taking, Returning

Meghan takes these words, meant to fishbowl the dialysis experience, and departs for the next few weeks to complete the finished product. Another stretch of silence. And then one evening a pleasant woman with an engaging smile approaches my chair and asks “Are you Mr. Kisner.” Reluctantly I said, “Yes.” She introduces herself as Barbara Chira, Meghan’s professor and the Drawn to Care project director.

With her soft, calming voice, Barbara begins to ask how the project was going and then lets on that once the portraits were finished they would be unveiled at a reception in CIA’s brand new gallery, there would be an interview with the local national public radio station, and each patient would be presented a final portrait.

Whoa! This was becoming quite a big deal.

I looked over to Harvey and said, “Man, we have to go to the reception …” Harvey declined. Said he didn’t like crowds. So I told him, no worries, I’ll represent the floor.

And so there I was and there we were—27 Fresenius dialysis patients captured on canvas in glass-covered showcases along the walls of a long hallway. Pensive expressions silently speaking of years, months, hours, resolve, endurance, hope.

“This was a wonderful, rewarding experience,” said my profiler, Meghan. “The project allowed us to engage with our patients on a more personal level.”

Harvey, a 6’-5” gentle giant passed away in October. But his portrait, mine, and the others for our friends and loved ones have sealed a reflection, a mood, a moment of dignity antithetical to the grind of dialysis. And celebrating that pencil, and pen can miraculously draw to care.