Tag Archives: documentary drawing

A Trip to Helios.

Waiting Room at Helios by Suzanne Forbes August 17 2021We got out of the taxi at the automated parking gate, and the first thing I did was flop down on the grass.

Just outside the city in the North-East, Helios Klinikum Berlin-Buch is sited amid patches of woods, sweet meadows and pretty village streets. We had taken a cab from our home in the Far West on this beautiful summer morning, because using mass transit like normal Berliners would have involved bus, S-Bahn, tram and bus again. Plus the risk of exposure to thousands of people.

I had badly hoped to see some Pferde, but although I saw some paddocks, no horses were out. Nobody was out. In our hour-long cab ride across Berlin and then out into the suburbs, the city appeared deserted. It’s normal for Berlin to be deserted in August, when all the locals go on holiday, but this was different. The lack of British tourists was profound. The only place we saw people was Potsdamer Platz, where a few Americans were photographing the horrible architecture.

The village streets were empty but at Helios hospital, things were moving. There was the usual German hospital complex mix: beautiful old buildings, flat glassy new ones, and doctors and nurses on their smoke breaks outside. As the cab rolled away from the Helios grounds, I took off my face shield, my prescription swim goggles and my outer FFP3 mask, and lay back on the grass. Dandelions, daisies, burdock, gentian, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, all the flowers of high summer in Maine are here in Germany too, and it was so good to see them and smell the cut hay of nearby fields.

The very rainy summer and cool August has left the countryside fluorescently green and vital, everything alive and bright and waving. The mix of fields and town and woods and rivers here is so much like Connecticut, where my mother’s family settled on arriving from Scotland, or Wisconsin, where I spent summers with my godmother. Germany is so fucking beautiful, and feels so much like home, which is always a little confusing.

My husband stood nervously waiting for me, while I looked at the blue sky and thought about the last planes leaving Afghanistan and the pregnant ten year old girls in the Tigray and the burnt islands in Greece. I tried, briefly, to make sense of the German countryside, its buried shell casings and its bucolic splendor. Then I sanitized my hands and my goggles and put everything back on except the face shield (which I use primarily as a windblock in taxis now that we have our goggles) and we walked to the biggest building and went inside.

Of course we had to walk around endless hallways and down long galleries full of unmasked children and chin-maskers while we tried to figure out where we were and how to understand the signs, but the place was well-ventilated, the day was temperate, and we have good PPE. I would have liked a wheelchair, but the walking was bearable. We found an infodesk, and D. got yelled at for wanting to go to a place that was for children. Then, after he explained that he had what the children had, he got yelled at for having the wrong form.

Then we were given permission to go ahead anyway, as is customary if you accept the yelling, and we went to the Warteraum for Kinderchirugie.detail Waiting Room at Helios by Suzanne Forbes August 17 2021

“Du bist meine Muffin,” I said to my husband.

It was the first time I said it in German. I was terrified about the doctor. I had had three nights of endless recurring nightmares, the bad one where we’re trapped in the US and can’t get home to Germany. I was so afraid the doctor would say the same thing all the other American and German doctors have said over the eleven years we’ve been together: “Your condition shouldn’t be causing you pain. Are you sure it’s really happening?”

Medical gaslighting and patient invalidation is a core trauma of disability and while I have had more than D., he has had his share the last few years. I was afraid we were braving the Delta variant and his trauma around hospitals to be told “You’re too old, why didn’t they treat this sooner” or “We can’t help you, the insurance doesn’t cover it” or “You should just try not to eat fried foods”.

We waited about an hour, with a relaxed tween boy seated across from us and then gone, and the occasional screaming, crying, coughing children and parents going by. The single oversized blue LEGO on the play table really was the only toy visible, though there was an empty dollhouse and kid’s books on the shelf.

And then we were called in to see the specialist, who is the protégé of the world-renowned doctor who we were originally going to see before the Covid-19 pandemic started and he retired.

The doctor was the real deal!

Finally, someone who truly knew about my husband’s condition and had no shaming commentary about how nowadays this is treated when someone is a child. He was immediately committed to treatment, and explained that the insurance company would argue because of D’s age, but that he could handle them. It helped, he said, that we had done everything right: seen all the specialists leading up to him, to confirm nothing else could be causing the symptoms. He believed my husband (and me, I’m generally the one who yells, “He’s suffering and he deserves relief!”) about the symptoms. He agreed that D deserved relief from this pain and limitation.

He said, “I see 300-400 patients like you per year. I know what they are experiencing is NOT A FAIRY TALE.”

(emphasis mine, imagine this sweet validation said in Germanic English.) !! WOOHOO!!

Another Big German Surgery for my cyborg hubbie next Spring, God and booster shots and pandemic willing!

I am so grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to continue making art as a Covid-vulnerable disabled person. With your support, I can work from home or safely outside and keep telling the stories of Berlin.

For the archives: Courtroom stories rarely have a happy ending.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 defense 1The court cases that tv stations hire artists to document are are almost always really sad.

As a courtroom artist, I was present for a lot of trials involving the rape and murder of girl children. In 1993, I worked several.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 prosecution and defendantThis was one of the big, highly-publicized, month-long ones I worked.

There was a Latine defendant, with learning disabilities and substance abuse problems.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 defense 2There was a talented, charismatic Latine defense attorney.

He was a favorite to draw with all four of us courtroom artists,

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 defendant court recorder judge and prosecutorThere was a prosecutor who decided to bring a case despite the lack of a body, based on DNA evidence.

Then and now, it’s very hard to get a conviction without a body.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1992 to 1994 evidenceThis was when DNA evidence was still new enough that expert witnesses testified at every trial where it was used.

They explained DNA sequencing in great detail. Juries fell asleep. Including this jury of middle-aged white women.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 mother and familyThere was a mother on social support, who was struggling to function.

And there was a little girl who disappeared completely, leaving nothing but a little diluted blood and what could have been the defendant’s semen, in a shower curtain in a storage locker.

Courtroom drawing by Suzanne Forbes working as Rachel Ketchum ca 1993 defense 3The Latine attorney did a tremendous job, and the Latine defendant was released.

But if you were there in the courtroom, it was loss on all sides. At the time we in the press felt it was a miscarriage of justice; now that I understand racism and particularly Minnesota racism more, I don’t know.

The little girl’s body was never found.

Me in 1992, a year before this trial, with my iguana Constance.

I also experienced a lot of personal trauma during this trial. The setting, a suburban town about a half hour drive from my flat in St. Paul, was very uncomfortable for me. I hated the place. I was acutely aware of my otherness, my New York junkie queer outsider position, despite wearing what I called my “passing” clothes.

Plus, there were what my friend and fellow courtroom artist Steve Michaels called “The Ghouls”. Something about this trial brought out the worst I ever saw in the spectators. The courtroom was open to anyone, and seats for press were not reserved.

So we artists had to cluster at the courtroom door, and fight for our seats. We lived in fear of not being able to work that day, and losing our jobs; the Ghouls lived in fear of not getting in to hear about the blood traces of a little girl. (She was four).

One morning an older man I particularly hated, a prurient creep who was there every single day, scuffled with me so violently I spilled my lunch in the doorsill. As I fought free and ran for my seat ahead of him, he yelled, “If you were my daughter for one night — ” I was doing intensive therapy about childhood sexual abuse by my father during these years. Thank the Goddess I had a therapist to tell about that moment.

During this trial I got a kidney infection and worked all day with a fever of 103, in my coat, hat and gloves, with my teeth actually chattering. When the court day was over and I’d handed my drawings to the cameraman to shoot, I went to the nearby ER. Where they couldn’t believe I was on my feet. In retrospect, that might be the viral infection that led to what I am finally accepting is probably ME/CFS.

In retrospect, I probably should not have been a courtroom artist, as a traumatized sexual abuse and rape survivor with PTSD and C-PTSD.

But it is what happened, and I am still glad that I was there to be a sympathetic female face in the audience for every woman and girl child survivor I saw testify.

Until today, no modern media record of these drawings existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.

I didn’t have a camera, and of course there were no camera phones. So until this moment, the only documentation of these drawings that existed was the footage the WCCO-TV cameraperson shot for the night’s news. And the station kept all that footage on BETAMAX tape. 

So, I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.

How I became a courtroom artist.

Drawing a police misconduct trial in Minneapolis.

The case of The Frozen Head.