Watercolour portrait of young man bravely living one day at a time
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For two hours last week, 29-year-old palliative care patient Divy Virmani was able to put aside thoughts about being sick to have his likeness painted in beautiful watercolour.
As HammondCare lead artist Annette Innis applied her brushstrokes, Divy chatted to her about his adventures in India with his brother, his passion for LEGO, his attempt at origami and the affection he has for his extended family – subjects other than health.
“This is the first time I’ve ever had my portrait done before,” Divy said. “I can’t wait to see the end result."
Divy, short for Divyanshu, was referred to the HammondCare community palliative care team late last year as part of his long journey battling kidney cancer. The watercolour portrait is being undertaken as part of HammondCare’s innovativeArts Engagement in Hospitalsprogram, which provides “hands-on” professional interventions for patients, staff and families connected to HammondCare’s Greenwich, Neringah and Braeside Hospitals.
As Australia marks National Palliative Care Week, HammondCare can reveal this wonderful example of the work of the program, funded by a $350,000 grant from the HammondCare Foundation.
For the portrait with Annette, Divy chose to pose with a completed Lego model of the Taj Mahal – a favourite. He also chose to wear a black Hawaiian shirt incorporating brightly coloured VW Kombi vans and flowers.
Annette takes a two-step approach to the portrait. First, she did a rough sketch painting of Divy, including collaborating on the concept and how he would prefer to pose. This will be followed up by a proper portrait painting later that will be given to Divy and his family.
He wants the finished portrait as a keepsake for his mum, Parmeshwari.
Divy was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2017, just a few months after graduating from University of Technology, Sydney, with an electrical engineering degree and launching a career with defence contractor Raytheon.
The former Knox student had surgery to remove his left kidney and for a time things were looking up. Then the cancer returned and a roundabout of treatments followed.
Divy has a vibrant personality and loves a laugh, although he tires easily these days. He also shows a maturity well beyond his years. “I’ve reached a stage where I have come to peace with what I am facing. I am confident it’s all in God’s hands,” he said.
Annette, who expressed feeling privileged to spend time with Divy, said arts engagement is about the connection with the person and participating in the process of art-making together. “The most important thing when I do a portrait is that we chat,” she said. “I see a portrait as a collaboration. Hopefully the patient can forget their situation for a while.”
Divy talks positively about his experience with palliative care and wants everyone to know there is so much misunderstanding in the community about what it means. It is not about the final days of life or giving up – it’s about maximising quality of life. “There is so much about palliative care that people, especially young people, don’t understand,” he said.
He lives at home with Parmeshwari and his dad Naresh, both well-known personalities in Sydney’s Upper North Shore for running their Jai Ho Indian Restaurant at Turramurra over many years. They have since retired from running the restaurant to spend more time with Divy.
HammondCare General Manager Health & Palliative Care, Dr Andrew Montague, paid tribute to Divy’s courage at a stressful time for both him and his family.
“It’s a privilege for our team, our nurses, volunteers, pastoral care staff and Annette, to support this wonderful young man. It’s important for the community to know it’s not just older people who can benefit from palliative care,” Dr Montague said.