Art as Life; Life as Art
It was a shock that the pain was arthritis and that only surgery would help.
Photographing the event, before and after anesthesia brought a feeling of control where there really was none. I photographed the hands of all the players in my hospital stay – from surgeon to blood tech; from occupational therapist to housekeeping.
When I was recovering, I began to sort through the photographs of hands I regularly make – samplings from paintings, sculpture and other media – when visiting museums. I found pairings – thus the diptychs and a French-Door artist book were born.
My bum hip reminded me of childhood when my sister’s physical handicaps made me jealous for attention. The story follows the diptychs.
When I was eight, I was highly motivated to help the healing profession find something wrong with me. Years of tagging along to outpatient clinics with my mother and younger sister, Cheryl, disabled from birth, had most likely unleashed this desire. I finally succeeded when the orthopedic resident at Children’s Hospital in Boston brought my mother into the examining room and, in a quiet voice, said, “Well, the x-rays don’t reveal very much, Mrs. Davis, but it does look as if Karen may have fallen arches.”
He wrote a prescription for arch supports and advised that I wear sturdy oxfords.
Two weeks later, I had arch supports and a new pair of brown Stride Rites.
My exhuberance faded within months as I realized there would be no patent leather Mary Janes for me. As soon as I grew enough to require a new pair of shoes, I declared myself cured and never looked back…. for more than a half a century!
A Post-Midlife Procedure
Half a century later, the periodic shooting pain in my groin was beginning to intrude on my life. I assumed the problem was tendons and tried stretching more. Sometimes the knife-like pain appeared while jogging on the treadmill – sometimes not. I switched to the recombinant cycle – I took fewer walks – I stretched. Maybe I was pronating. Maybe I needed arch supports.
My internist recommended an orthopedist. I had X-rays and met with the doctor.
“You have arthritis in your left hip.”
“What’s the cure?”
“Hip replacement surgery.”
(Insert expletives here).
I got a second opinion.
“You have arthritis. The only cure is surgery. You’re certainly a candidate; but some people prefer to wait – others, not.”
He suggested ibuprofin.
“You might try a cane,” he continued.
Does it hurt going up stairs?
Does it hurt lying down?
Within two weeks it hurt on the stairs; within three, lying down.
I called his office, “How fast can we get this done?”
We set a date five weeks ahead.
I have confidence in the medical profession, but surgery means a loss of control. You’re in someone else’s hands. Not just the doctor, but everyone connected to your treatment.
For this reason, I assigned myself a task – something that could provide me with a sense (false) of control. I would document my experience with photographs. If I was to be in the hands of strangers – their hands would be in mine.
On our back deck that warm August evening before surgery, Mark and I shared some wine and I began my project. The first “subject” was a stainless steel model of an artificial hip – an artifact/paper weight from Mark’s days in MIT’s bio-mechanical lab.
At 6 a.m. the next morning we reported for surgery – my first post-midlife “procedure.”
Everything went well. The staff – to a person – was kind and helpful. They were also agreeable photographic subjects.
While I was in the hospital, Mark built a recovery room for me. I needed to be on the same floor with the bathroom and kitchen for a week or two. He cleared space in my studio and bought a mattress and box-spring. Then he built a twin-size bed – complete with headboard and reading light; purchased and set up a dvd player with surround sound, and positioned my ibook on a TV table within easy reach.
My recovery went smoothly.
- Four days in the hospital.
- Two weeks in my studio (then sold the bed on Craig’s list.)
- One week with a shower stool.
- Three weeks with an adaptive toilet seat.
- Two weeks on crutches.
- Three weeks with a cane.
- Eight weeks of special exercises.
I no longer had to weigh the idea of walking to the Square. No more cane or anxiety about the next sharp pain. No more distress on stairs. I resumed sound nights of sleep and work outs at the gym, – although getting there enough continues to be a challenge.
Nowadays, I’m only reminded of my foreign body part at the airport. My left hip sets off the anti-terrorism alarm. I’m scanned with a beeping metal detector and patted down as I stand spread eagle, stare off, and pretend no one notices the frisking.
A small price to pay.