Nine months ago today (on April 28, 2016) I had surgery to fuse my spine. I have to say, despite the pain and difficulty, it's been a beautiful experience!
Prior to the surgery, I experienced pain doing anything for any length of time: sitting, standing, walking. My life became smaller and smaller as I gave up various activities. In the weeks following the surgery, my world shrunk to just my bed and my room. As I stated in this previous post, I wanted to take advantage of this recovery time to dawdle – look around me, think, spend time with my Self and my God. As I lay in bed for hours it occurred to me that despite my circumstances I had everything I needed. I had food, shelter, people who care about me and I could even paint in a limited way. I had all of the essential elements needed to live a fulfilling life. Later, playing on a little canvas with some sulfur-yellow paint it all came together. Sulfur is a stone – one of the elements, one of the building blocks of life we learned about in school. Painting is one of the elemental parts of my life, so I decided I would paint all of the elements in the periodic table.
Day by day, as my body re-built itself, I built a body of artwork. Small steady steps physically and artistically. Each day I would challenge myself to walk just a little bit further. With each painting, I would try to go out of my comfort zone using different techniques and mixed mediums. I follow my surgeon's instructions to the letter: no bending over, no lifting, wear the back brace at all times except in bed, sleep only on my back and take walks every day. My body became stronger and the periodic table grew.
At my one month appointment, the surgeon said that everything looked perfect, the cells were multiplying, but fusion hadn't begun yet. I continued to walk and paint religiously, but also got plenty of bed rest while researching the elements. I decided to paint just 71 elements, the naturally occurring ones, and planned a solo show around them for November, three months after my surgery. Friends came to see my progress with my back and my paintings. Some stayed to work on their art while I worked on mine. A team formed to help me prepare for my show culminating in a "hanging party" the night before the show opened.
The show itself was a huge success! I sold many individual elements, was given the opportunity to be featured on the cover of a chemical company's catalog and sold the entire periodic table to a bio lab company (I had to re-paint all the ones that had been sold previously). Also during this time, I had my three-month appointment with the surgeon. He told me that my recovery was excellent, fusion had begun and I could finally shed my back brace! While I was thrilled to do that, the brace had been doing the work of my core muscles for so long that I felt extremely unstable without it. I began a simple regimen of core strengthening exercises and stretching. Two months later I re-joined the gym and began doing bodyweight exercises and walking hills on the treadmill – nothing high impact. More small steady steps. Each week I tried to increase my ability in some way: a new exercise, walk a little faster, stretch a little further.
Now it is nine months later and more than 71 paintings. My back feels great! I can do almost everything I was able to do in the past: sit, stand, walk, workout and touch my toes - though I still avoid high impact exercises. I have a scar and my lower back is not as flexible as it was, but it's stronger. And as my spine strengthened, I grew in my patience, relationships, self-confidence and creative abilities. From these elements, I've created a Life and it is truly beautiful. I'm so grateful.
*** A special thank you to my friends and loved ones who went the extra mile to help me during this time.