1. Greener, Mike

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Patricia Joy, formerly a critical care nurse and currently a hospice nurse at Partners in Home Care in Missoula, Mont., has encountered death more times than she could ever count. For more than 25 years, her line of work has brought her emotionally close to many individuals who were at the end of life. "PJ's" way of coping is unique. She honors her past patients with paintings based on the experiences she has had with them during their time of dying.

Figure. Photograph b... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Photograph by John Wilkes

Life's lessons

PJ takes her memories and stories of past patients and combines those experiences with her love of watercolors and sculpture.


"As I would write and paint about one, I found that more and more memories of different patients would come to mind, as if they were saying, Don't forget me," said PJ.


PJ first painted and wrote about a patient attached to a ventilator, whose irregular heart rhythm had gone into a fatal pattern many times one night. It fell to PJ, working the night shift in the cardiac care unit, to defibrillate his heart back to a life-supporting rhythm.


"After I delivered the shock, he grabbed my arm and mouthed the words, No more, and signaled to the machine that would sustain his life," said PJ. "I let him know that if I didn't do this he would die. He understood, and after mouthing the same words to a physician who entered the room, we granted his request."


The patient died peacefully several minutes later.


"I learned the importance of listening to patients and having the courage to speak up for them even when it is not the standard of practice in the medical arena," said PJ. "It is vital for us to become their advocate, especially in the rush of emergency care. When caught up in the adrenaline and urgency to save a life, we must still our hearts and minds to listen and see with open eyes what it is that the patient wants and needs. This patient taught me that it is perfectly all right to say, No more, and that we must listen."


The painting, in elaborate color, shows the weak arm of a man reaching up to a nurse as if he is telling her, "No more." It's only the first of many watercolor portraits of past patients who have affected PJ's life.


Finding inspiration

PJ's watercolor instructor, Deborah Milton, said that PJ's experiences as a nurse combine with her newfound love of watercolors into a wonderful dance between the verbal images of her writing and the visual images of her painting; each creative form inspires the other.


"She believes in her artwork so passionately," said Milton, who has a PhD in psychotherapy and human development but is now a watercolor artist instructor. "As an art instructor I try to force students to push the boundaries of their art and to find their visual voice. PJ has achieved this in her own unique way of combining her artwork and stories of her past patients."


Milton says that PJ's greatest gift is her confidence in her own work. "Her passion is potent. It's positive and tends to liberate other students who are around her into finding their own internal creativeness."


PJ's interpretive paintings and stories about working with dying patients provide an honest, open perspective of the process of allowing a loved one to die in peace. Visit her online art gallery at her Web site,




1. Greener M. Panorama: a profile of PJ. J Hosp Pall Nurs. 2005;7(4):190-192. [Context Link]