South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS)
Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing once said, “Variety of form and brilliancy of color in the object presented to patients are an actual means of recovery.” Although South Texas VA Recreation Therapist Dawn Phillips and Occupational Therapist Maria Gomez-Lansidel presented somewhat drab, natural-toned rocks, the brilliancy of color referred to by Nightingale, was left for the patients to create.
In October, Phillips, along with Gomez-Lansidel, started a new initiative called, “The Positivity Project.” The project consisted of getting rocks and a variety of colors and ornamentations for patients to create and customize the stones that would eventually take their place in Audie Murphy Hospital’s first legacy garden.
Neither therapist derived their inspiration from Nightingale, rather an interaction with a patient, During a tour of a neighboring senior facility. Gomez-Lansidel and a veteran took notice of a rock garden they had there and loved the animals and positive affirmations painted on them. After a little research from a VA hospital in Oklahoma who had established their own garden and some guidance from the local “San Antonio Rocks” group, the planning began.
Undertaking a new project is difficult. Working through different agencies to receive clearance to begin, Phillips was already thinking about the clinical benefits. “I thought about how challenging it is to inspire some of our patients to move forward in their recovery and rehabilitation and how a little positivity can go a long way,” Phillips said. “I’ve done groups focused on positive quotes and what they mean to each individual and always had great responses, so I thought it was a fitting title.”
The project inspired Navy Veteran Ednalyn Dedios who doesn’t consider herself to be “crafty” in the least bit, but painting does something else for her. “Last week I didn’t go out of the house one time,” Dedios said, explaining that she has trouble sometimes dealing with crowds of people. Dedios said she was glad that South Texas offered the program because it gets her out there in public. It also gave her an outlet for the pride in service and country that she still holds today, painting the Navy’s core values of honor, commitment and courage. With a grin, she said this particular rock she took back with her.
Gomez-Lansidel said the project is much deeper than arts and crafts time. It builds in the Veteran, certain attributes that they will need no matter what their goals are. “This project is giving our patients the opportunity to work on planning, organizing and executing skills that are necessary to be successful in the real world,” Gomez-Lansidel said. She added that the Veterans themselves selected the spot on the South Texas campus where their creativity will find its final resting place, and measured how much mulch they would need.
One of those attributes is adaptability. Army Veteran Terry Moreno, found that out for herself as she struggled using the provided brushes for the detailed work she was trying to complete. Instead, she used a toothpick because it is easier for her to hold after the eight strokes she has had left her with fine motor skill challenges. She did not want to give up on her theme. “I wanted to paint the Navajo feather so I could stay connected to my community,” Moreno said. “I also want to make sure that others know my people also served this country.”
Gomez-Lansidel said connections to community seem to be a challenge for Veterans. She added that this project fits the bill. “Rock painting is so versatile, it lets our Veteran population be a part of the community on their own terms,” Gomez-Lansidel said.
That sense of community is stretching farther thanks to social media. “The VA event was shared with the San Antonio Rocks group, and it immediately received a ton of interest,” Phillips said. Phillips added that one woman brought her Marine Veteran mother in to paint, which was the only thing she had been interested in doing.
Phillips said there are several benefits to recreational therapy like hand-eye-coordination, fine motor skills, sense of purpose, self-expression and social engagement. The latter brought Vietnam Veteran Larry Zepala in and will bring him back again. “It was great to be with other Veterans,” Zepala said. “It was great to take your mind off what you’ve got going on, you know, like Vietnam.” Zepala asked when the next project was before he left the room.
When you walk into the room, you can see all of the benefits Phillips spoke about; Veterans hunched over, focused on their rocks to fine-tune the intricate detail, looking up information online for inspiration or a photograph or just sitting together, telling stories of their service.
Both Phillips and Gomez-Lansidel received great feedback during and after the project. Some are excited to take their rocks with them and drop them in other gardens across Texas or wherever they travel. Phillips said the project gives them the opportunity to connect with the community and families in a therapeutic manner.
The project proved so popular, a second rock painting event has been scheduled for December 3 from 12:30 to 3 p.m. in the Recreation Room at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital.
Check out the rock garden