Art, pain, healing

Over the weekend I’ve been talking with Penny about food addiction again … it’s a complicated thing. An alcoholic can potentially avoid alcohol for the rest so their lives, a nicotine addict doesn’t have to smoke a cigarette ever again. A food addiction faces their addiction multiples time a day. Is it hard? Yes. Do we always succeed? No! But we’re not giving up either…

The other pain is my knee. I’ve got really good movement, and a scan on Friday showed there’s no clot in my calf. That’s great news, but does mean we still don’t know why it’s so tight and sore. Last night I slept with only one pillow knee to ankle instead of two. I slept ok but my hip’s been uncomfortable today. I think I can persist with just the one though and let the muscles adjust.

For me, with pain comes art. Actually, art comes with most things; pain, joy, sadness, anger, love and so on. This weekend I made a Teesha Moore inspired journal, starting with a large sheet of Fabriano Artistico paper that I cut, folded and stitched. Not quite my usual style, but a lot of fun.

Facing a fear

I’m pretty good at honest conversations these days, and facing stuff. I admit to my addictive nature, and talk about the impacts. There are still things I put to the back of my mind though.

Today I voiced a nagging fear. I’ve walked oddly for 9 years, mainly with the aid of a walking stick. Now I have two new knees, and am starting to walk without crutches some of the time. Will I walk normally once my knee has fully healed? Do I know how or is the muscle memory gone?

I was under a neurologist’s care for a while. I have some obvious problems, but we couldn’t get to the bottom of it as my “I need new knees” walk made diagnosis difficult. We talked about whether I’d had a stroke when I was put on life support, or have MS. I’ve got a decent sized lesion next to my spine, but we don’t think it does anything. In the end, we decided to wait until my knee replacements were done, as a diagnosis isn’t necessarily useful.

In the next few weeks I’ll need to face it. I might walk totally normally, and it’s so simple. I might need some physio to learn to walk properly, and it’s a bit more work but totally ok. Or I might still walk badly and need to connect up with the neurologist again, and deal with … something …

Whatever the outcome, I’ll cope with it. Having voiced my worry is a really good start.

It’s a miracle

The damage to my knees was severe according to the radiologist and surgeon. I’ve had significant osteo arthritis in my knees since at least 2012, the year I had a car accident which damaged them further. As a result of the bones eroding, my legs were very bowed. It was so bad my surgeon was concerned he might not get either knee totally straight.

It’s just over two weeks since my second total knee replacement. There’s still a lot of swelling and bruises but these before and after photos tell the story…

If I’m not crafting…

If I’m not doing any art or craft you know things are rough! This knee replacement is way more painful than the first. Although less painful to walk on than my right knee was, the left was the more damaged of the two. The level of bruising and swelling suggests getting it all straight was a brutal process.

I was sent home with just Panadol for pain relief and, after days of mucking round, I’ll finally get something stronger tomorrow. Hopefully life will feel better.

At the moment I only sleep for a couple of hours before waking up in pain then, when I move to get comfortable it turns to agony for a few minutes. There’s a lot of middle-of-the-night tears.

It’s not the new knee that hurts. It’s my hip, which is having to realign itself, and my thigh as I haven’t used that muscle for 9 years, walking from the hip instead. Basically I’ve got dreadful bursitis.

Anyway, by tomorrow afternoon I hope I’ll be able to sit for more than an hour at a time. I need to spend some time at my art desk and art out all the feelings. In the meantime I’ve tried to keep up with my exercises despite the pain, even sending my poor sister photographic evidence!

And it’s done – new knee

I finally had my second total knee replacement last Thursday, and I am incredibly grateful. The anaesthetist decided he wanted to do a general, not a spinal block, for various reasons. He was right – I’m definitely not good surgery material. His decision probably avoided life support again…

The surgery went well, and I was up that afternoon. The surgeon was happy for me to go home after 2 nights but I chose to stay 3 because we’re 90 minutes away if things go wrong. I was able to get a 90 percent bend day one, which he said he hadn’t seen before. Day 2 the physio said I had in the top 10% of movement. So we should be looking at an excellent result.

As with the last one, my hip is causing me a lot of pain and keeping me awake at night. I think it’s just that I’m standing so differently. As Sandra said, I’m taller already! She’s been a star, looking after me but not fussing. If she hears a crash, she doesn’t come running, she checks on the swearing level and yells out to ask if I’m ok. Very sensible.

The initial bruising is coming out quickly, which is a good sign. Obviously the deeper bruises will come out for weeks. Yesterday and today Sandra has dropped me off at Te Mahana and I’ve spent a couple of hours with Tony; it’s good to do a few laps of their halls. Onward and upward, in a few months the pain will be a distant memory.

Imperfect and scarred

My friend Penny and I have been working on a collaborative project, sending works back and forth, adding layers of words, tissue, paint and so on. These aren’t about making pretty art. They’re about documenting stuff that’s deep, and occasionally dark, that we share.

I commented to her tonight that “we are utterly imperfect and that’s totally ok. There is both beauty and survival in our scars.”. Our scars are physical and emotional, surface and deep.

I have a lot of physical scars; there’s a giant one and around a dozen small ones on my stomach alone. A couple of weird – but thankfully faded – ones on the side of my neck from a central IV line. A big one on my right leg from a total knee replacement and, later this coming week, there will be a matching one on the left knee.

It’s the same with the emotional scars … some are small and faded, others deep and persistently livid. I’ve talked about the cause of some on this blog, others there’s only one or two people who know the story. And there’s a couple of scars I can’t ever verbalise – but I have shared most of it, in writing, and in tears.

Scarred inside and out. And that’s okay. The scars are part of me, just as my art is part of me. Like me, my art isn’t about pretty. It’s not made to match people’s furniture or look cute in a cafe. It’s about telling my story in paint when I can’t find the words and, some of the time, shining light on dark things and bringing a sense of lightness to them.

Counting down to a new knee

Recently I spent 10 days in Hokitika, staying with Alan for a break. Penny and I made art & had lunch out (always love Monteiths), I rested, did lots of gelli printing and so on. If I stay home I don’t rest as much because there is always something to do, and I visit Tony every day.

The sun came up towards the end of my stay and Alan had gone out the back of the farm to work. Late in the day I decided to try going for a walk on the farm. Knowing my dodgy knee, and even dodgier sense of direction, I left a note saying where I was going and what time I left. I got quite a long way for me, taking care on the farm track and using my walking stick. Alan met me as he headed back and offered me a ride on the bike – no, I wanted to walk back. I’m nothing if not stubborn! I headed back and met him where he was seeing to the calves, then walked the rest of the way to the house with him. I did about 6,000 stops, which is not a lot for most people, but good for me.

Today I went over to the main admin building. It had been raining so I carefully dried my shoes on the mat, stepped off it … and my walking stick slipped. I wrenched my bad knee and now it hates me. I have to work very hard to stand up, and I’m limping like a limpy thing!

I am having my second total knee replacement in exactly two weeks. All going well, by this time of day I’ll have been for a walk on my new knee with the aid of crutches. I had the blood tests today so they can cross match blood just in case. It’ll be done with a spinal block, which is much safer for me. The only thing that could go wrong now is if Covid gets further down the island.

It’s 9 years since my car accident and 8 years since I started using a walking stick. I can’t wait to walk easily, not worry about steps and disabled carparks, and a million other things. I am so grateful this is being done.

This was the day after surgery last year.

Gelli collab

Penny and I spent a few hours playing with our gelli plates today. We talked about processes, colour/pattern likes and dislikes, and so on. Some really useful things happen when you work alongside someone you trust.

Watching Penny work reminded me of processes I’ve used in the past, but have moved way from. I’d forgotten the sheer joy of putting colour on the plate and pulling a print – there’s no other way to get the serendipitous spots of colour and texture.

Penny had stopped using stencils with gelli printing and rediscovered her love of a particular circle stencil. We talked about how I like quite complex, layered prints, while she likes the clean, clear lines you get from a good ghost print (second pull).

I’ve been watching a lot of Elizabeth St Hilaire’s videos and tried to replicate her process. I didn’t get it quite right, and suspect I’m not starting with a dark enough base, need to think more about value / opacity, and do more layers. I’m sufficiently invested in the outcome that I’ll keep trying.

Here’s a selection of papers I made today using tissue and tracing paper, and one piece of Hahnemule sumi rice paper.

The perks of level 2

Level 3 is pretty much level 4 with takeaways. Level 2 is much simpler, in one sense, although I know a lot of people find it stressful. This time New Zealand is in Delta level 2, so a bit stricter than previously. It’s working though, with only 13 new cases today.

One of the changes is masks are mandatory in most situations outside of the home. I’ve bought a couple of masks for Tony, and I’ve got quite a few in various styles. My latest ones have the wire nose piece to try and stop my glasses fogging up.

I’m diligent about mask wearing etc because I’ve had Aspiration Pneumonia so my lungs are perhaps not 100%, my knee surgery is in about 6 weeks meaning I need to stay healthy, and I have Tony to think about. Also, my best friend of 50+ years can’t have the vaccine so is vulnerable; I need to do my part to protect her,

Yesterday I was able to visit Tony in the rest home for the first time in a number of weeks, and today he came home for about two hours in the afternoon while I worked. It was lovely to have him home and Bruno, Sandra’s dog, was delighted to see him.

Tony’s 75th birthday

When it became clear a few months ago that Tony would need rest home care, he desperately wanted to stay at home until his 75th birthday. It wasn’t to be; he’s been in Te Mahana 3 months now, and today was his 75th birthday. Plus we’re in lockdown so his daughter, Yasmine, had to cancel her trip up from Christchurch. It’s all been made harder by the fact I was in self isolation until yesterday due to covid.

We could only ‘visit’ through the ranch slider but he’s seen me, his brother Roger, Sandra, Kim, and Janet. He’s had a call from Yasmine, and his dear friend Doris. He’s had text messages, gifts from staff and one of two residents he’s made friends with, and generally been fussed over.

I’m so grateful to the people who helped make it feel better. Sandra N at De Molen in Foxton, who dressed up the parcel I sent him. Michaela S who made bright bunting and tied it to the posts outside his room in a stealth visit, and dropped off the flamingo at the same time. Peter B who gave me a concrete flamingo to paint when I put the call out on FB seeing I couldn’t go shopping. Pat & Kevin K who found the perfect birthday card at the supermarket for me. People are wonderful when given the opportunity.