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Susan Oxenham with artwork

Susan Oxenham next to her artwork 'A Practical Painting'

The art of healing

28 Aug 2019


While recovering from major brain surgery at Nepean Hospital, Susan Oxenham, an artist who is legally-blind, took to filling her time making artworks and teaching fellow patients.

“I expected to be in hospital for 10 days but stayed for 41,” says Susan, who has a rare genetic condition which causes tumours to grow in her body and impairs her vision.

“I couldn’t hold a pencil in my right hand due to numbness, but I kept a visual diary of my time in hospital and all my medical appointments.

"It doesn’t have to be pretty. The visual diary gives you a purpose. Gives you an opportunity to record your feelings at the time.”

In total four ‘visual diaries’, which Susan considers her ‘autobiography’, were created during the latest admission to hospital.

“I had a small notebook and pencils with me at all times. You need to take action yourself, to fuel your own rehabilitation.”

Initially, Susan chatted with fellow patients about creating simple art, but soon she was holding informal art classes on her ward, N1G.

She says hospitals are fine places to heal but she believes feeding your “spiritualness” is also essential to your recovery and rehabilitation.

“Art and a sense of humour are part of healing,” says Susan, who also had patients making paper planes.

She says it was a fun way to help her, and others, regain dexterity. It’s not the first time Susan’s artworks have appeared at Nepean Hospital.

A Practical Painting by Susan Oxenham

Previously, the Oxenham Family and Susan’s sister-in-law, Melanie, donated to the rehab ward one of her mixed media artworks titled ‘A Practical Painting’ - a colourful piece that includes one of her paper planes tucked in amongst clinical equipment glued to the canvas.

Handwritten on the paper plane is Susan’s personal message to current and future patients: ‘rehab rocks’.

A trademark positive message from Susan who has been living with vision impairment for most of her life.

"When I was two-years-old, my parents were told that I would probably go blind.”

Incredibly, it was this news that set Susan on a life-long journey as an artist. “My parents bought me a blackboard and chalk and encouraged me to draw.”

Before losing her sight, Susan carved out a career as a wedding photographer for 21 years. However, as her sight deteriorated she re-invented herself as an artist, painter and now artist-in-residence, albeit temporary, at Nepean Hospital.