Last March 3 I endured a nine hour open heart surgery that was a big whopper of a surprise to everyone in my life. I had a 9cm aneurysm in the ascending aorta of my heart, and there was no other way to keep me alive. Two funny people we know died of this exact same situation: Lucille Ball and John Ritter. I like to think its somehow a comic’s condition.
I love Mark Twain and remember reading “The Innocents Abroad” the year I lived in Florence, Italy. He made lists in that book, measurements and tallies that illustrated his points. Here is my Mark Twain list for My Event of 2015.
- 89 Medical Claims
- 9 hours of surgery
- 5 hours of intubation torture, wide awake
- 36 sessions of rehab: 4 months, 3x per week
- 0 Caffeine
- 272 Amazingly lovely friends (I counted the cards and gifts…)
- 3 painfully absent “friends”
- 42,392 pills including morphine and heroin (that might be a slight exaggeration)
- 27 Books read
- 1 Fabulous Surgeon
- 4 Hideous Medical “Professionals”
- 2 Damaged Business Relationships
- 8 weeks of being chauffeured
- 500+ photographs taken
- 1 Book finished and delivered to publisher
- 4 different states visited for teaching
There is more, this is just off the top of my head.
The last year has changed the trajectory of my life. Aside from the scar, which is obvious, there were many upheavals that came with this kind of event and all of you out there with a major illness know what I am talking about. There is no way I would have known how to treat someone like me, and I learned a lot that I would like to share with you.
I have a new set of rules for those of you who have not had a medical trauma to help out when one of your friends does.
1. Never assume you know how they feel. You don’t.
2. Your friendship, at small moments, could be far more impactful than it ever has been. No act of friendship is too small.
3. Acts of charity are magnified. Charity is actually a gift to the giver, you already know that. Being able to really help is a warm fuzzy rush that we are grateful for. Take them a meal, knit them a scarf, send them a card or drive them to an appointment. It matters and you will always be glad you did this.
4. Do not Google the situation to see where your friend should be in their recovery. Ask them. They are the experts in their own situations, believe you me. Avoid judging them based on what you heard at a cocktail party last week from a guy whose cousin is thinking about becoming an EMT.
5. Give no advice at all unless asked for it. This person is getting advice until the cows come home, by people who have actually been trained in the medical field. They are in a dog pile of advice.
6. Do not make changes in their world without asking first. Do not move the furniture, cancel the articles or classes, take them off the lists for upcoming events. This is dismissive and they already feel vulnerable and dismissed. I will say it again. ASK first.
7. Make time to sit with them. Just sit and knit or draw or chat. Quiet time where there are no expectations at all, just grace.
8. Never use platitudes. “Everything happens for a reason, we will see the silver lining soon, God has a plan. You are so lucky you did not die.” NEVER DO THIS. It is their journey, not yours, and these things are again dismissive and judgmental. If they feel lucky and blessed, they will let you know.
9. Try to realize that their world has just permanently changed and they are likely very frightened and as vulnerable as they will ever be. Be the friend you would want at a time like that.
Okay, climbing of my soapbox now and let’s get to the goodies.
To celebrate my continuing journey on this planet, I am giving away a set of my stencils, a copy of my first book “Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed Media Mapmaking” and a small Miró inspired journal filled with my favorite paper. Miró was an artist who expressed himself in many mediums and styles, just like so many other artists that I admire and how I ultimately decided that having a studio full of multitudes of mediums was okay. Miró gives me permission to experiment, as I hope you do in this journal.
Leave me a comment here on this post and tell me what I might have left out of the list of how to Tend to a Sick Artist, or anyone else for that matter. Would love to chat about it.
LOVE! to all of you.