Expressing Her Gratitude Through Art

A Chumash Native American artist brought gifts to Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital nurses who cared for her when she was a patient in the COVID-19 unit.

Heartfelt thank-yous and hugs. A beautiful painting of a rooster. Fifty colorful hand-painted crosses. These were the gifts Mary Garza Chavez, an 80-year-old Chumash Native American artist, brought for Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital staff in October 2021, many of whom were nurses who had cared for her when she was a patient in the COVID-19 unit.

In November 2020, Garza Chavez began to feel tired and weak and developed “the worst headache you could ever get.” Early in her hospitalization for COVID-19, she witnessed some fellow patients who had died of the virus being taken away.

“They were all covered up, and I said to the nurse, when is it going to be my time? He held my hand and she said, ‘Mary, you’re going to go home,’” Garza Chavez says.

“I said, ‘I am?’ And he said, ‘Yes, you are.’”

Arnie Garcia, RN, accepts a rooster painting from Mary Garza Chavez, a Chumash Native American artist.

While she understood the importance of keeping family members away from the hospital to prevent them from being infected, Garza Chavez says it was very difficult to battle her illness without seeing her loved ones. “But because I was there, now when I hear people out there talking about how their loved ones passed away alone, I know for a fact that’s not true,” she says. “There’s somebody there holding your hand. If I would’ve passed away, I wasn’t going to pass away alone because one of God’s children was with me. Maybe not a family member, but God’s child holding my hand for my journey.”

Having lost four family members to COVID-19, Garza Chavez says she has no idea why she was one of the lucky ones to survive. She credits the healthcare staff for giving her back her life.

“I knew in my heart that thanking them was not enough. People don’t realize how much they are going through here.”

All of the nurses were grateful for their beautiful crosses, and one, Arnie Garcia, RN, said he would treasure the rooster painting Garza Chavez had made to honor his father who had passed away and about whom they had spoken at length. But the greatest gift of all to these dedicated caregivers was to see their patient – who had once been so sick – healthy, thriving and creating beauty once again.

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