The Art of Healing

Springtime sun streams into Jean Ranstrom’s art studio near Alexandria, Minn. After two months away she’s back, happily surrounded by her easels, paints, chalks and paper.

After a successful knee replacement surgery on Jan. 10, while recovering at home, she developed a condition she never expected.

“I’d never even heard of an ileus, but I’ve since learned it’s not that unusual,” she says. “I never would’ve gotten through this without Jessica Paulsen at Sanford. She was fantastic.”

Jessica, a physician assistant at Sanford Health in Alexandria, suspected an ileus when Jean came to the clinic on Feb. 5. X-rays confirmed it.

What’s an ileus?

An ileus refers to a slowing down or halting of the digestive system. Symptoms include: Crampy abdominal pain that comes and goes

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Inability to have a bowel movement or pass gas
  • Swelling of the abdomen (distention)
  • Ileus can happen for several reasons, including any type of surgery. Anesthesia, days of immobility and pain medication can all contribute.

    Most people experience minor symptoms that typically disappear in a day or two after bowel function resumes. A few may experience long-lasting symptoms including extreme pain. Sometimes hospitalization is needed.

    “Jean was very uncomfortable and willing to do whatever was needed to get this ileus resolved,” says Jessica. “Her preference was to stay home if at all possible. We worked closely with her to make that happen.”

    A love of art motivated Jean’s choice. Prior to knee surgery, she’d put together small kits so she could paint miniature pastels at home rather than trekking out to her studio. “Small jewels,” she calls them.

    “I’d go nuts if I couldn’t paint,” says the 74-year-old who started at age 10. A prolific oil and pastel artist, she’s won awards, received grants and exhibited at shows across the country.

    A step-by-step approach

    Jessica researched the latest strategies in ileus treatment, then arrived at a step-by-step approach. Unlike many medical conditions, an ileus does not have well-defined treatment guidelines because what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.

    “Jessica was so willing to share information. She was an absolute gem and left no stone unturned,” says Jean. “I always knew if one thing didn’t work, we’d try another. I was in the clinic twice a week for three weeks. Each time I got the care, encouragement and support I needed.”

    Early measures included dietary changes, ambulating as much as possible and even chewing gum to try to stimulate the digestive system. Jean diligently followed Jessica’s recommendations, hoping one or all of them together might work.

    While waiting, she greatly appreciated the help she received at home from her husband, Fraye, and their grown children.

    “We have a fabulous family,” says Jean. “They took turns being here and were always willing to lend a hand, whether it was cooking or housework.”

    Faithful to her art, Jean continued to paint, focusing her attention on green apples, landscapes and milkweeds.

    “I think art is a great healer,” she says. “You can’t be figuring out how to get a weed to look a certain way if you’re worrying about a health problem. Painting requires 100 percent of your concentration.”

    Getting creative

    Early measures failed to resolve Jean’s ileus. Jessica never gave up. Her research led her to believe a “colonoscopy flush” could help the bowels restart. It’s the same process used by people preparing for a colonoscopy.

    “We had to get creative because basically we’d tried everything else and the next step was going to be hospitalization,” says Jessica. “I ran the idea past Dr. (Douglas) Griffin, my supervising physician, and he thought it was worth a try.”

    The day after the colonoscopy flush, Jean reported success. She felt better than she’d felt in weeks. Today her system is completely back to normal. Her knee has healed well, too, with range of motion that has exceeded expectations.

    “Through all this, she kept right on doing her knee exercises,” says Jessica. “She’s one determined woman.”

    Sharing her gift

    Her ileus resolved, Jean looks forward to her normal routines: housework in the morning, a light lunch, the entire afternoon in her studio.

    In July, she’ll begin her annual stint as an artist-in-residence at Mount Carmel, a nearby Christian retreat center. There she teaches, visits with guests and shares her passion for “Plein Air” (open air) painting. Every day, weather permitting, she loads up her easel and supplies and treks to a beautiful outdoor setting. By afternoon, a painting is complete.

    “When my knee was bad, I had a tough time walking the grounds and scoping out the scene I wanted to capture. This year will be different,” she says, smiling and patting her left knee. “It’s going to be a wonderful summer.”

    Posted Date: May 2013

    The Art of Healing

    When Jean Ranstrom developed a painful ileus, she leaned on Physician Assistant Jessica Paulsen at Sanford Health in Alexandria, Minn.