...and this is my assemblage from all the ephemera!
First, a pic:
In the summer of 2004, I had brain surgery to correct a congenital vascular (blood vessel-related) deformation in my brain: an AVM. (Senator Tim Johnson [D-S.D.] had one, too, but his made him stroke out. Oops!) Mine was luckily caught in time by MRI and strange symptoms (tongue seizures), but the surgery was one of those "life events" I am loathe to wear on my sleeve as part of my identity. Nonetheless, it is.
Back when I was applying to architecture school (ha. That didn't happen.), I was working on a portfolio, and I started this assemblage. I finally got more glue and more inspiration (my original E-6000 sealed itself shut a while ago) yesterday, so I finished it.
As you can see, it's fully portable in its original briefcase that I destroyed:
This is the "top" portion of the opened briefcase. It represents the surgery portion of my experience: MRI films in the background, doctors' appointments, skin staples, medications, and the immediate aftermath from the surgery.
This is the "bottom" portion, which represents my recovery: get well cards, physical and occupational therapy for my paralyzed arm and weird gait, giving myself time, waiting for my hair to grow back, and dealing with fun new double vision.
This little triptych was placed in the backs of pocket watches. A recurring theme in my work is time: giving myself time, waiting, and recovering. You can see my immediate post-surgery incision, with all 29 staples in my head. I called it my "zipper". Also, my neurosurgeon's business card, and an eye-chart, due to my double vision that appeared right after surgery.
In this corner we have a fun little pile of pills and pill bottles, for my many hated medications. They made me dizzy. In one pill bottle is my driver's license. I could not drive afterwards since my vision was blurry. In another bottle are dice that used to spell out "long and slow" I think. They moved (damned play-doh!). The third bottle has my health insurance card, signifying what a mess the whole health care industry is in, and how ill-prepared I was to deal with it at age 22. Eep. You can also see the tool used to pull all 29 staples out of my head, an a nice shot of my new haircut.
In this corner we have little mugs spelling out "AVM", my condition. The images are from an old phrenology textbook, which is cool. The ruler is snapped to the approximate size of my AVM (3cm x 4cm). You can also see the index prints I glued onto tags and used to show our activities and love throughout the summer. I think they almost look like a flimstrip as they line the case.
This image again, but with the lightbulb (idea from the brain, of course) and the hourglass (again, theme of time). Also, the full spelling of my condition, which took many
Here are my staples. All 29. They're lining an anatomical image I love. "AVM" here is spelled using old Hollywood clapboard tiles (scene 42, take 3). The heart is placed anatomically where my AVM was. Dice (there's another) are on "3" and "4", again, for the size of my AVM, as well as representing the uncertainty of going into "elective" surgery.
These are a few of the get-well wishes that poured in from relatives I hadn't heard of, as well as close friends and family. I had originally been upset with my mother for telling everyone (I swear, she answered the phone saying, "My daughter's having brain surgery; please hold."), but when the love and support started coming in the mail, and when I had zillions of e-mails to respond to upon arriving home from the hospital, I felt ensconced in all their care. The matzah ball soup represents "Jewish penicillin", for recovery. Also visible are several exercises I was supposed to do with Thera-putty (strong play-doh) for my formerly paralyzed hand.
More exercises. Also weird man with many hats on. I was told not to keep my incision covered, but to let it air. I was afraid of freaking people out with my "headband", so to speak. I looked for hats, to at least keep my skin from burning during the summer. The circular image was from an angiogram (I think) during my surgery, showing the actual AVM. It's basically a knotted messed up bunch of veins and arteries, resembling, I do admit, spaghetti.
Finally, one of my favorite pieces. I read the book, "I Had Brain Surgery; What's your Excuse" by Suzy Becker, before my surgery. In the book, she wished she had a pin to tell people she had brain surgery, so they'd be patient with her and show kindness. I wholly embraced this idea, and made myself my own pin. Many thought I was kidding when they read it. Then they became suddenly very shy when I showed them my incision.
I hope you've enjoyed reading about this very special project. It was cathartic not only to create my assemblage, but also to photograph it and share it with you. If you have any questions I did not answer in my novel above, please feel free to ask away. Thank you for reading this far.
If you're starving for more to read, you can check out my narrative about my surgery (almost like a blog) at http://www.westga.edu/~wmaples/tenenbaum_abi.html
Epilogue: I lived. I have recovered 98% of function in my left hand/arm, and 100% in my leg. My smile (the left side of my face was kind of droopy) is still wonky, but not a big deal for someone who will never "Be a model, or just look like one". My vision fixed itself (after I made the appt with the opthamologist, of course!), and MRIs from 2 years post surgery show the AVM is GONE!