Sensory Garden

Meeting with my community partner was one of the highlights of my first year of medical school. Over a series of zoom calls, I met an incredibly bright educator, whose love of life and wholesome living was inspiring. Our conversations changed topics frequently, ranging from her life growing up in Sweden, her late husband, her involvement in the Raleigh-Durham community, her love of North Carolina Public Radio (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention People’s Pharmacy and On Being), and her lifelong struggle with Type 1 Diabetes. We discussed how she watched diabetes care evolve throughout her life, and how she went from not having home glucose monitoring as a child, to the wide array of continuous monitors and pumps that exist today. While we were discussing her vision loss related to her diabetic retinopathy, she told me about the garden she constructed in her backyard. Rather than focus on pristine landscaping or other visual aspects, she made her very own ‘sensory garden’ complete with the most fragrant blooms and bushes, calming sounds of birds, and an array of textures. Her garden is filled with fragrant rosemary, lavender, quince, pansies, and her favorite food – ripe tomatoes.

Before meeting my community partner, I imagined I’d do a painting or drawing as my SCOPES project. However, after learning about my community partner’s sensory garden, I wanted to challenge myself to go beyond art that was purely visual and create a three-dimensional, multisensory experience that encapsulated aspects of her life experience and journey with diabetes. Thus, the idea for this blanket was born. It begins in the lower left hand corner with small blue and yellow flowers to represent her childhood in Sweden, before transitioning to flowers in red, white, and blue to represent her immigration to America. Sweet pinks, purples, and flowers meant to resemble quince follow, representing her loving relationship with her husband. A focus of yellow flowers, surrounded by trails of red, branching vines are meant to resemble the retina on a fundoscopic exam, a nod to her experience with diabetic retinopathy. The rightmost section includes more orange hues, meant to symbolize the color of the leukemia ribbon and her recent diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The progression of size, shape, and complexity of the flowers are meant to represent her commitment to lifelong learning, curiosity, and personal growth. Finally, a few tomatoes are sprinkled in, as an appreciation of her favorite food. The bright, bold colors throughout are an appreciation of Swedish fashion designer Gudrun Sjoden.

About the Artist: Lauren Parker

Lauren is from Richmond, Virginia and enrolled in Duke after attending Johns Hopkins University and studying Molecular and Cellular Biology. She joined the SCOPES project because she wanted protected space for art and creativity amidst the busy first year of medical school. She is in the MD/PhD program and hopes to pursue a career in pediatric cardiology or cardiothoracic surgery. Outside of medicine, she enjoys yoga, climbing, swimming, crafting, and playing with her adorable chihuahua named Phil.