Jessica Byrd, a registered nurse in Surgery at Forrest General Hospital, is helping keep spirits bright as she shares her passion for art with the hospital’s patients and staff members. For both Christmas and Mardi Gras, Byrd has adorned the entrance to the hospital’s surgery suites with decorative artwork.

For the current Carnival season, Byrd created a Mardi Gras parade scene on the doors and walls leading into the surgery suites. The double doors, which open constantly, feature Café du Monde, St. Louis Cathedral, a St. Charles Street trolley, and Bourbon Street lamp posts, complete with coffee, beignets, and a king cake.

To the side, a court jester, in the persona of Dr. Kristen Spruill, an anesthesiologist, (aka, “The Queen of New Orleans”), who loves all things New Orleans, and even graduated from Louisiana State University, throws beads from her float.

This isn’t Byrd’s first creation for this particular area of the hospital. For Christmas, Surgery won first place for its “12 Days of Christmas” during the hospital’s annual Christmas Door Decorating contest. “Everybody was sad when Christmas was removed, but it was January and Santa Claus needed to come down,” Byrd said. She then received permission to create something Mardi Gras themed.

The canvas creation was painted at home then brought and installed on the surgery suite doors with the help of Byrd’s husband. As “one to not just do the basics,” Byrd went all out for Mardi Gras.

For Byrd, her artistry is her passion and something she does on the side. She’s actually been painting her entire life. It was after she drew bunny rabbits around the perimeter of her closet as a little girl that her mom decided to send her to art classes, and she’s been drawing and painting ever since.

A long-time employee in the medical field, it wasn’t until Byrd’s daughter was born with special needs that she looked to a career in the nursing field. “When my daughter was born I found myself asking doctors so many questions,” she said. “I needed to know these things for myself. That’s when I decided I really really needed to go to nursing school, not just for her, but for people like her. I’ve had to learn a whole lot of things – medical terminology – all sorts of things. The general population does not know a lot of medical information. They are admitted, overwhelmed with information, and are scared. As a nurse, I could be that go-between.” Byrd currently works in surgery, which she says has been a good fit for her.

Friday is baby dental day in the operating rooms. Byrd said the children were really excited to see Santa Claus on the beach during Christmas before they were rolled back to surgery. “We see people, typically, on their worst days,” Byrd said. “Most of these procedures are not elective, and they don’t want to go back here. It’s fun for them to see something bright and cheerful right before they go back. Usually staff members will comment to the patients about the décor to interact with them.” She said the traffic along the surgery hallway of the second floor has really increased the last several months with people coming by to see the artwork.

Byrd is not sure what is down the road, but Mardi Gras will roll to an end soon since Fat Tuesday is February 21. If approved for more artwork, spring break and Easter are just a couple of ideas she has. Whatever she chooses, it will be something that brings smiles to the faces of patients, staff and herself, “because it makes me happy,” Byrd said.