Hospital health screener brings joy through cartoons

Updated: May. 11, 2021 at 3:26 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - If you’ve been inside the UVM Medical Center since it reopened to visitors, you’ve gone through a health screening, where workers take temperatures and ask questions. It can be a pretty tedious process, but one screener is using his skills to add a little lasting creativity to the process.

As a way to supplement his income and interact with people again, freelance cartoonist Marc Hughes took a job as a health screener at the UVM Medical Center. Each person who passes receives a sticker. “So you take your black marker or red marker and you put the date on each one, but as a cartoonist, I saw white space,” Hughes said.

He decided to fill that space with cartoons. He started with just cats and dogs. Now, Hughes is up to 25 characters. He keeps a list. All are drawn right there on the spot and other screeners help him add some color to them. He says he’s probably done hundreds of them since starting about a year ago. “It was always such positiveness wrapped around it and it’s such a great thing to be able to produce and have that thing happen just because you drew something on paper,” he said.

“That’s why I called and said, you have to hear about this,” said Nian Wan, who has been a regular patient at the hospital over the last couple of weeks. When she heard what Hughes was doing, Wan asked him if he could draw a cartoon of her dog, Fleury. Since then, she’s been collecting his work. “I feel like what he’s doing is historical art,” Wan said. “It’s bringing a smile to patients, I think, especially kids.”

“I remember a boy who kept hiding behind his mom the whole time. And I’m trying to get the temperature, but he swung right around, right around when he found out there were stickers with cartoons on it, and he was right up next to me. So, there was a little bit of magic there that I wouldn’t have ever anticipated,” Hughes said.

With vaccinations and looser restrictions, Hughes’ not quite sure how much longer his screener position will be around, but he’s hoping the hospital will continue to hand out his caricature stickers, especially to the kids who need them. “There’s got to be a way to brighten up their day when they step in there,” he said.

“Putting a smile on people’s faces, especially now, I think it’s so important,” Wan said.

A short-term gig that became an outlet for creativity and compassion. And the feeling Marc Hughes draws from it, is much larger than any paycheck.

Hughes used to draw caricatures for people on Church Street in Burlington. He’s also a cancer survivor and uses his success story as inspiration for other cancer patients he meets and screens.

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