CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Typically, a hospital intensive care unit is not a very cheery place.
But each holiday season, nursing instructor Sara Morrison visits the cardiac ICU at Charleston Area Medical Center's Memorial Hospital to deck the halls with a little poster paint and some really happy snowmen.
She started the tradition 22 years ago, when she was working the night shift in Memorial Hospital's coronary care unit. It had been a bad month for the floor. Many of their patients had died and the staff was emotionally drained.
Morrison and her fellow nurses decided they needed some holiday spirit, but their decoration options were limited.
"We said, we've got to do something to dress this place up," she said. "I went and bought paints."
Morrison, a longtime crafter, began painting the windows on patient rooms with Christmas scenes. At first, she worked during downtime at work. After she left full-time nursing to become an educator at the hospital, Morrison began coming in after work to paint. The job takes about four hours to complete.
This year, like most years, Morrison's designs have a snowman motif.
"Snowmen are my thing. The 'Frosty the Snowman' song, I could sing and dance to that right now. That's my song," she said.
The first window in the cardiac ICU features a pair of snowmen, one wearing a pink scarf and the other a blue one. Just down the hall, another snowman is ice-skating and holding a Christmas tree. His next-door neighbor is skiing. Farther down, a snowman stands with his arms open, sporting a simple message: "Welcome friends and flakes."
She begins her paintings by outlining characters with a black dry erase marker. She sketches out the snowmen's rotund bodies and pudgy arms, along with scarves, skis and ice skates, depending on which accessories Morrison decides to give her characters.
Next comes the paint. Morrison uses water-based poster paints, which makes for a quick and easy cleanup when Christmastime is over. She begins with a few basic colors - blue, red, green, yellow, white - and mixes them if she needs to broaden her palette.
She keeps her paint in tiny plastic cups, like the ones nurses use to deliver patients' pills, and puts only a little bit on the brush at a time.
"You can't get a lot of paint on there because it runs," she said.
It's important to get things right the first time. She has found that trying to go back and touch up dried sections only removes paint from the window.
Morrison begins applying color by dabbing her brush on the glass and then pulls the paint into long strokes. She tries to make the pictures pretty large, to make painting easier.
"It's a little hard to get details. Making the pictures bigger makes it go smoother," she said.