Friday, December 14, 2007

Three Bones Shy & Infinitely Richer

Each piece of art I produce has special meaning; it represents a small victory over adversity that resides throughout my body (i.e. chronic migraines, myofascial pain) but that most especially rears its ugly head in one of my most precious assets: my hands. It is a complicated tale and one that I have only alluded to in past posts. However, given upcoming challenges, I have decided to detail a bit of my story, not as a plea for pity but as an example of how health issues don't have to rule one's life but can, in fact, enhance it.

My tale has taken years to evolve. In 1989, I was involved in a bicycle/car encounter. I saw the car rapidly approaching and thought it best to get out of its way. Somehow, my panicked brain felt that an immediate stop was the best course of action (oh, how illogical that was!) so I "slammed on" the brakes and subsequently, executed a very ungraceful tumble over my bicycle's handlebars. Instinctually, I extended my hands outward to cushion my fall. I promptly broke a small bone in my left hand and incurred a constellation of minor scrapes and bruises. 1990 found me in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Torrejon, Spain as a radio and television broadcaster. I developed a Dupuytren's Contracture in my left palm that required two removal surgeries a year apart. In 1993, home and finished with active duty, I noticed a lump in the middle of my left wrist accompanied by annoying and gradually increasing pain. Between 1993 and 1998, I visited several hand surgeons who were perplexed and unhelpful in a variety of ways. My X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans appeared normal (at least to the untrained eye.) Beginning in 1999, my right (dominant hand) became extremely painful and on many days, almost useless. A new set of X-rays in the fall finally revealed the answer. I had Kienbock's Disease
in both wrists and the disease was twice as bad in my right wrist as my left. Diagnosed most often via heavy, boring, and comprehensive orthopedic textbooks, Kienbock's is uncommon in women, young people, and rare bilaterally. I had hit the Kienbock's trifecta. Essentially, the blood supply had been compromised for a little bone called the lunate and as a consequence, the lunate had died and collasped into about three pieces. In June of 2000, I had surgery on the right wrist to remove three bones. In December of 2000, I had my left radius (one of two arm bones) shortened and connected with a plate and 6 screws. Between 2000 and 2005, I developed De Quervain's tendonitis in the left wrist which required surgery and another contracture, this time in my right palm. (I discovered early this year that I had the foot version of contractures as well, which also required surgery.)

Whew! What a journey it has been! And in February 2008, I will be having a full fusion of my right wrist to relieve ongoing pain. The surgeon will harvest bone from my hip and use the bone, a plate, and screws to permanently fix my wrist into a neutral, unmoving position so the bones can't grind on one another. This will be my sixth hand surgery (multiple surgeries are common for Kienbock's patients.)

I know this all sounds very grim but this is truly the best thing that has ever happened to my art and my life as an artist. A mere week after I was diagnosed, I switched my college major to studio art. I knew immediately how I wished to use what my hands could offer. My passion, determination, focus, and dedication grew by leaps and bounds. I work through the pain and dysfunction with a variety of adaptations to tools and working style. Does it slow me down? Absolutely. Does it prevent me from exploring certain media? Absolutely. Does it inspire me to pour my heart and soul into every creation? Absolutely. Do I grieve for what I have lost? Never. I have gained too much to mourn. And that, as they say, is that.


kelly snelling said...

your heart shines out through your words and your work. the pieces posted here are gorgeous. the pictures of your hands incorporated are very powerful and moving. kudos, friend!

Joanne Huffman said...

The art that accompanies this blog entry is very potent - especially after reading all you've been through. Your strength shows in your art.


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