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What of the ongoing lives of those we only see as horizontal "patients"? Any illness is a serious intrusion upon a life of creativity. To writers, artists, musicians, and many others, it is devastating to focus, momentum, and output. It is a costly interruption of the creative process. For so many of the contributors to their art, there is a high incidence of disease, shortened lives, and the burden of not being able to address important unfinished work. However, they doggedly persevere, in and out of consciousness.


Do healthcare professionals know the authenticity of the creative instrument and life's work of those they have on the gurney? Do they want to know?


I stood by the intensive care unit bed of the most creative person. The situation was grave. The tracheotomy allowed no words. A student said to me, "she may not make it-perhaps it's just as well." She saw an "old polio" with damaged limbs and a fulminating illness[horizontal ellipsis]a body on the bed. I saw a person paying a terrible price, knowing the threat to a musician's life and composer's productivity of published works.


She was painfully alert, not only of her own situation but also of those around her. She survived, and wrote a book about it. Those who have the will to create seem to invest all experiences, even altered states of intake, for insisted upon investment. Readers know about keeping protective hands around the flickering flame of genius.


A musician has been mentioned. Added to this will be a representative artist and a writer: the Stephen sisters, later known as Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.


Vanessa Bell's art was delayed by her father's illness. The great scholar Leslie Stephen delegated so much of the daily load of responsibilities that he no longer was willing to attend to, and his daughter's authoritarian living legacy was of a Victorian father whose rule was absolute. When escape was finally possible, her painfully delayed art shyly emerged.


Vanessa's creativity can be seen at London's Tate Gallery today. She was never completely free from obstacles. These included her own illness, that of her sister's-Virginia Woolf-and the life-changing death of her first-born son Julian, who had gone patriotically to Spain to drive an ambulance.


Despite her mental misery, she moved to Charleston, a farm in South Sussex, and she and her associates painted all day, every day. Sick or well, grieving or quieted, her art was everything. It was greatly influenced by the work of impressionists and by Duncan Grant and others in the Bloomsbury Group.


And Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived a bicycle's ride away. Vanessa often had to put down her brushes, summoned to her very ill sister's side, for Virginia was acutely ill in a pattern of recurring emergencies, mental and physical.


However, Virginia's work went on; the list of her publications-books, letters, diaries, reviews, essays, and criticisms-is overwhelming. Not only was she fighting the enemy within, there was also the enemy outside. Literally. Not only World War I but also World War II bombed their living quarters and their press, but writing went on through unspeakable physical and mental agonies. I say unspeakable but not so. She describes them in detail. The Battle of Britain was all around them. A plane was down on their grounds, the casualties were transported from the English Channel past Monk's House. However, despite many days when she could not get her head off the pillow, both she and her husband wrote.


Despite adversity, why do creative people, all through history, give us their lasting gifts? Because of "the will to create," they can do no other.


Suggested Readings


1. Carlson D. The Unbroken Vigil. Reflections on Intensive Care. Knoxville, Tenn: John Knox Press; 1968.


2. Gruber R, Virginia W. The Will to Create as a Woman. New York: Carroll & Graf; 2005.


3. Spalding F. Vanessa Bell. New Haven and New York: Ticknor & Fields; 1983.


4. Bell AO, ed. The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Vol 5. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich; 1984.


5. Lee H. Virginia Woolf. New York: Alfred Knopp; 1996.