Artists from Bremen, Hillcrest high schools paint a message of appreciation to ICU nurses

It takes a tremendous skill set to be a nurse working in an intensive care unit. Besides medical training, nurses need empathy, mental and physical stamina and the flexibility to handle a wide range of stressful situations.

One ICU nurse at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest brings another talent to her job.

“In the ICU, we have glass doors so we can look in on the patients, and she decorates the windows for the patients,” said Katie Trotter, a fellow ICU nurse at South Suburban from Tinley Park. “She paints the windows and it brightens their view.”

The South Suburban ICU nurses got a taste of their own medicine Wednesday as art students from Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills and Bremen High School in Midlothian spent the morning adorning the glass windows of an adjacent hallway with their paintings.

The students were painting the mural in advance of Nurse Appreciation Week. Last year, the art classes did a similar project, albeit one more temporary in nature — a chalk mural outside the hospital.

“This is great for young people,” said Jamilah Adebesin Mason, an art teacher at Hillcrest. “We’re training them to become productive members of society. They have to take what they’re learning in the classroom and apply it in the real world.

“And as members of the community, it’s important for them to get out and network with people, but also showcase their talents.”

For several seniors preparing to graduate from Bremen, the opportunity to break away from the school building for a day also was appealing.

“I thought it would be fun,” said Hanna McClendon, of Midlothian. “I wanted to spend my senior year doing things, going out into the community, doing art stuff.”

For fellow senior Francisco Carbajal, a Bremen student from Harvey, the project offered relief from the more structured rigors of high school life.

“There’s a freedom; you can do what you like,” he said, standing by his painted image of a fish eyeing a fishhook. “They needed a window painted, and I started drawing.”

Bremen senior Faith Aparicio and a friend planned their portion of the mural to be “a day/night thing.”

“I love Van Gogh and wanted to do ‘Starry Night,’ and then the paint started flaking off,” Aparicio said. “I started freaking out because I didn’t want that, but my teacher said just take it off in places and run with it. Like Bob Ross says, ‘happy mistakes.'”

Besides a fun way to break up the routine as their high school days wind down, the significance of the reason for their trip wasn’t wasted on the students.

McClendon said a family member had a major surgery a few months ago at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, and she saw firsthand how important nurses are.

“They were great, so I appreciate them a lot,” she said.

“It feels good to send a message to the nurses,” agreed Aparicio.

For South Suburban ICU nurse Sharise Lopez, of Monee, the mural was reminiscent of a similar effort a few years ago that really meant a lot to her and her colleagues.

“We had this hallway decorated with posters during COVID,” Lopez said, pausing to dab at her eye. “I’m not going to cry.”

“We’re so emotional, right?” said Trotter, standing nearby.

“We are so emotional. It’s stopped up inside,” Lopez replied. “That made me feel good, just walking to my car, that there was someone else out there who was thinking of us.”

Trotter said Wednesday’s effort was heartening.

“If we’re having a rough day, just to see something to brighten our day, and knowing it was the students who came to do it, it’s so cool,” she said.

As a teacher preparing to release another wave of fourth-year students into the world, Bremen art teacher Edgar Gonzalez was gratified by the students’ efforts as well.

“Taking students to a situation and giving them minimal direction and just saying go and watching what they do,” he said. “They are constantly surprising me. You needed a little guidance, but not that much guidance. And that is so satisfying.”