Out The Damn Window: One Patient’s View from Inside a Cancer Hospital
I met Cindy Craig in June 2014 during my regular visits to patients at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL, where I work as an artist in residence. Cindy, who had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, was recovering from surgery to remove and replace her right knee and preparing to start chemotherapy treatments. During our first visit, Cindy painted an image of her new artificial knee, titling the piece, Mega-Cindy. Our work together over the next several months culminated in a fifteen-minute time-lapse video of the view outside her hospital room window that also includes reflected images of nurses caring for Cindy titled Out the Damn Window.
Here is Cindy’s story in her own words:
“On my 40th birthday, in February 2014, a nagging pain in my right knee got worse. While my family doctor diagnosed me with arthritis, my cousin Debbie Bryant, an oncology nurse, encouraged me to get an x-ray. My mother, Della Craig, was also concerned. I thought they were both overreacting. To humor them, I got a second opinion.
Twenty-five years earlier, at the age of fifteen, I came home from school one day with an achy knee. After an x-ray, my doctor referred me to an orthopedist. When he saw my x-ray, his face fell. Mom knew what he was thinking. I had cancer.
A surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic diagnosed osteogenic sarcoma, a low-grade cancer that would not require chemotherapy. After two surgeries and ten years of follow-up appointments, my doctors considered me cured. I went on to earn two Masters degrees—in art therapy and library science. I traveled to Japan, Alaska, Ireland, and New York City. And I made art.
In 2010, I was hired as the Psychology & Sociology Librarian at the University of Florida and moved to Gainesville. By 2013, I had built up a record of professional achievements, published journal articles, and given presentations at national conferences. My mid-career review was very positive. Life was good.
It is hard for me to describe the feeling of seeing that x-ray on the computer screen with a large fuzzy blob in the dark space where my old tumor had been. I told myself it was just scar tissue. When the doctor came in, I asked him what the blob was. He said he didn’t know what it was but immediately scheduled me for an MRI. A week after the MRI, I returned to the doctor’s office with Debbie. The nurse handed me the MRI report and left. Debbie helped translate the diagnosis: recurrence of osteosarcoma. My doctor confirmed that my cancer had returned.
May first, May Day, was the day of my surgery. The surgery took twelve hours, much longer than my doctors had anticipated. During my first week of chemotherapy, Dylan brought me some painting supplies. We chatted while I painted a colorful image of my knee implant, which is called a mega-prosthesis. After my surgery, some friends had suggested nicknames, including The Bionic Woman or Cindy 2.0. I chose Mega-Cindy because it sounded like a Japanese superhero.
I used my art to personalize my hospital room. I displayed these paintings, other artwork I made with Dylan, and a photo collage of sexy men in kilts that Debbie made to cheer me up. Dylan would visit often and we’d chat about art and film. Even when I felt too weak to make art, I enjoyed our chats. Dylan made me feel like a peer rather than a patient.
During one visit, Dylan mentioned that he had always wanted to film the beautiful view from UF Health’s adult oncology unit on the eighth floor. He asked me if I would like to collaborate on it. At first, I almost said no. Then, I reconsidered, since I had little else to occupy my time.
Over the course of several weeks, I captured footage from five different hospital stays. Dylan kept asking me what we were going to title the video. Mom said we should call it Out the Damn Window because it was painful for her to watch me going through long, boring chemo treatments while staring out my hospital room window.
Some days, I would get frustrated while struggling to set up the tripod and getting the white balance right. But, at least I was frustrated about something besides my chemo for an hour. This project turned out to be ideal. I had lost interest in making any other art.”
We believe that Out the Damn Window can encourage empathy by asking viewers to share one woman’s experience inside a cancer hospital. The video and its title reveal Cindy’s ambivalence about the hours she spent gazing out the window of her hospital room.
As a work of art, the video is not meant to be entertaining, though it is at times sublime. Viewers see magenta sunsets, watch storm clouds build and dissipate, and experience nurses’ nightly visits. Those images of nurses caring for Cindy, which can be seen reflected in the hospital room windows at night, are among the most compassionate views inside a hospital that I have ever seen. They are spontaneously captured moments of genuine tenderness.