Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How We See Things

In the past three days, I have managed to get my butt back on the bike saddle for the first time since the coma. On one hand it feels terrible. It hurts, my legs ache, my lungs ache... and last night I got flying bugs in my eyes. On the other hand it feels great. It reminds me of what I used to love doing. The going is slow... really slow right now, but I have to remember, I didn't start out riding 20-50 miles a day. It takes a while to build back up to that. For now, I am having to see things differently. I am trying to not blame myself for the slowness of my recovery. I am trying not to expect everything to miraculously be better, just because my surgeon was able to rebuild my plumbing. There is a lot of healing still to do... but feeling this progress has been amazing! I am hoping to find time tomorrow to go down to the lake and do a little swimming. UPS delivered my waterproof bandages so I dont have to worry about my wound in the lake. Swimming in the sunshine, here I come!

And for anyone curious about these images... there is nothing "photoshopped" about them... this is not a filter. The effect is created with a 6" glass prism, held in front of my lens. Kinda fun stuff to play with. We'll see what tomorrow holds....  maybe more experimentation? (gotta deal with business stuff first,... then play!)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Something to do about nothing

Just a quick self-portrait.. while I wait for morning to catch up to my early rising. Since surgery, most of my mornings start around 430am. I miss the sleeping in till 6 or 7 am. No amount of exercise or exhaustion seems to make any difference, so after six weeks, I figure I am just going to roll with it. Up early? Do something. Here's my something.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Promotion (at Cayuga Lake Seido Karate)

This past week, Aurora was taking promotion for her Advanced Green Belt at Cayuga Lake Seido Karate. I was lucky enough to capture a few moments during the testing (and afterwards). This was the first time I have been able to photograph the kumite portion of the testing. Very exciting and incredibly fast stuff! I plan on posting more images soon, but figure, this is probably enough for one morning.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Up One Side of the Mountain (part 1) ... another coma story

Up One Side Of The Mountain (part 1) ... another coma dream retold

I looked up into a cloudless sky for a few moments, appreciating the cool, moist breeze. After weeks of being indoors, hot and dusty, waiting for the rain outside to break, I was stir crazy. I could feel the gentle breeze reaching deep into my burning lungs. That blue sky opened up beyond the treeline and didn't stop until it reached the heavens above.

Almost immediately I was drawn back to earth by the foreman screaming for me to carry the next load of sheetrock across the parking lot and into the old school building. Load in tow, I formed part of a long ant chain of plaster board carrying laborers. Each of us looked identical to the person in front of him. Dusty jeans with white splotches across the thighs... beige boots with the laces barely tied... t-shirts faded and torn... and each with our sheetrock hatchet dangling from our belt.

The old high school was being converted into a new community hospital. The crew I was working with had been hired on to tear out the old plaster and lathe, rewire the building, replace all the old utilities, upgrade the services, and in my specific case, hang new sheetrock and get everything ready for the paint crew which would be there in a week.

As dozens of sheets of the gypsum board began piling up on the stripped down walls, there was a pungent odor... an odd smell to be certain. At first, I was fairly sure someone had nicked a gas line. The smell was egg-like. Maybe sulfur from a gas leak. The plumbers came in and found nothing. No one else seemed to be able to smell the odor that to me was growing stronger with each load of gypsum board brought into the building.

The following day I awoke with a piercing headache which began right behind my eyes. Where normally I would experience just a dull throbbing or a tightness at the neck, this was like someone sticking hot needles through the backs of my eyes. I washed my face in the sink, assuming that during the night I must have rubbed my eyes with something on my hands from the day before.

As I finished my coffee in the truck, my eyes continued to water and burn. After a round of eye drops they were no better. The pain was almost enough to make me call in sick, but I figured if I made it in to work, I could handle sticking it out for the day. Maybe go home early after lunch.

My job for the morning was cutting access holes for the utility boxes. Quick work with a jab saw and fairly low mess. I would catch the worst of the dust with my hat as I was cutting, then dump the dust and debris out as I worked along the wall, revealing the electrical boxes. My eyes continued to burn, seemingly worse as the day pressed on.

When I went outside for a break, I put my hat on, shaking out the little bits of paper and gypsum. The very next thing I knew I was lying in a hospital bed, arms tied to my sides, tubes in my nose, and nurses frantically rushing my gurney down the hall. I tried telling them that my eyes were burning. One nurse said something about trying not to blink. The hallway felt like it was lit with neon sparklers. Every single light fixture in the ceiling glowed white hot. The only smell that I could discern was that of smoldering ash and sulfur.

The nurses muttered something about exposure and told me not to scratch my eyes... that the ointment would need to be reapplied every few hours for a few weeks. The grit that they said I was feeling was completely normal and would go away in time. I was expected to relax. All around me, I could see the walls smoking... an eerie grey-yellow mist. They said my eyes were closed, but I could see, smell and taste this rotten cloud everywhere I looked.

I asked what hospital I had been taken to. One of the technicians replied that it was the newest hospital in town. It was in fact, the ground floor of the very building I had been working in earlier. This was the intensive care unit. I was the second patient brought in for observation due to contamination. No one knew what we had been exposed to. When I asked the tech how long they were going to need to keep me, he told me that he had no idea. He'd only just started working that floor a day earlier. Fresh out of school, he had no idea what was going to happen. I asked about the first patient. The tech replied that he hadn't made it through the night.

Before he left my room, I asked him if he could close the windows and turn the lights out so I could sleep and perhaps get rid of the terrible headache. He drew close to my bed. Very quietly he let me know that the lights were off, the windows were closed, and that my eyes were taped shut. He then pressed a button near my head which beeped five times. Moments later I felt the room turn slightly, blur and then fade to black.

To be continued.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Seventeen Days in June (and July)

Seventeen days ago, I laid back in my hospital bed, wrapped tightly in my elastic girdle, swathed in bandages, hooked up to a catheter, IV and more.... and the first thought to cross my mind was: I didn't die. My second thought was: holy shit, this hurts!

Seventeen days have passed now since I first woke up from the surgery. The first seven days were spent in the hospital, basically passing time in a drugged haze as I moved from the state of pain, into less pain, and back to pain again. Sleep was broken up into smallish segments of usually less than two hours. I knew when the nurses liked me, because then they let me sleep. Vitals be damned! 

In the ten days that I have been home, I have been restricted in quite a few ways:  
  1. I am not allowed to drive until next Monday
  2. I am not allowed to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds until mid-August
  3. I am only allowed to consume low fiber, low residue foods... ie., no whole grains, no raw veg, no nuts
It has been remarkable having friends helping out with getting me to and from appointments, helping us with grocery runs, things that we normally would take for granted. Today our friends made sure that Aurora was able to get to and from her job down at the lakeside. This outpouring of help and compassion never ceases to boggle my mind. I am the last person to ever consider asking for help. The one thing that has been bludgeoned into my head over the past forty four months since the surgical debacle: It is okay to ask for help.

Part of me is in a huge, anxious rush to resume my autonomy. Being able to get around on one's own is no small issue. Having to work around everyone else's schedule really makes me reassess how important my needs are. Can it wait? Do I have to do it or can someone else do it for me? Just how important is it?

Another part of me is looking at the historical failure on my part, to understand the nature of my needs. Having this opportunity to have others caring for me has helped me to see needs that I had no idea existed. To be fully vulnerable, to need others so wholly, is a remarkable experience. As a perpetual care-giver, to be on the other side of the relationship makes me much more aware of how that reciprocity works. Learning how to ask for help is hard. Learning how to be okay with needing help is harder.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tell Me Again Why We Struggle

Today marks the two week post-surgery mark. I have hit the major milestones with only a few hiccups. The most serious bump in the road occurred over the weekend when I coughed and blew through some of the purse string stitches in my abdominal wound.

Nothing prepares you for the fear of your wound suddenly coming unraveled. The last time we had a complication with my abdominal wound back in 2009, I spent a month in a coma and woke up with my life changed. That fear doesn't go away easily.

As I waited for a call-back from the surgeon's office on Monday morning to find out what they wanted to do about the sutures, I felt my anxiety building. I was starting to feel some of the effects of my PTSD. There is precious little that stops the spiral once that freight trains starts rolling. I had already reached the point where I couldn't articulate my fears in words. I was unable to talk about it on the phone with well-meaning friends and family members. I could feel myself drawing inward... shutting down.

After I heard from the surgeon's office, I was slightly relieved (there was nothing they could do... it just happens sometimes)... but I was also able to reframe how my anxiety was affecting me. I decided to try to capture the frustration, pain, fear and shame photographically.

I will be the first person to admit to being afraid of how I look in front of the camera. I am always ashamed of how fat I look. I never feel like a portrait of me expresses who I am or how I wish I could feel. I have endeavored over the past four years, to use self-portraits as a way to explore ideas for portraiture in general, but also to nail down the technical considerations so that I am better able to explore the artistic / intuitive aspects in the moment. This portrait embodies that exploration. How do I show that fear? How do I express that anxiety? What speaks to that inner terror?

Granted, most of my clients will never ask for a portrait like this... but I think having the skill and sensitivity to capture an image that allows those feelings to come through is certainly worth exploring. It is hard to be vulnerable enough and cogent, simultaneously, while trying to capture/create this sort of an image. I'd love to hear other opinions and ideas for portraits. What portraits have you seen that affected or moved you?