After doing some searching, I stumbled upon a website called Best Psychic Directory. I know it sounds very cheesy, but after looking around the site for a while, I decided it was my best chance. I filtered my search by experience and reviews and read many bios. In January 2021, after a few stops and starts, I connected with Gayle Kirk, a psychic medium from North Carolina.
I met with Gayle via phone. I shared with her a little bit about how I was feeling lately and what I’d been experiencing. She took a few minutes to “connect” with spirit and then communicated what she was sensing. Immediately she connected with my maternal grandma — whom I knew and felt around me in spirit. We were very close and I have such fond memories of her and my time Up-North while growing up.
A photo of Grandma “Millie” at 15 years old sits on my alter and as well an angel she had bought for me years ago. Grandma loved birds and was always whistling away while cooking the best home-made meals in her tiny kitchen or doing the New York Times crossword puzzle out on the covered porch while having a cigarette. This is how I still see her today in my minds eye.
One day – after I had started to connect with her more in spirit, I was driving mindlessly and all of the sudden I smelled cigarette smoke in the car. The windows were up and none of us smoke. I instantly knew it was her — going along for a ride with me! She sends me beautiful red cardinals also. Several times over the past couple of years, if I’m having a particularly difficult day, I’ll look outside my kitchen window or out the bedroom window and there he is — all alone — just sitting in a tree. I know it’s my Grandma stopping by to say, “Hey, it’s gonna be OK Jenna and I Love You!” — I know she is one of my Heavenly angels!
Gayle was able to pick up on some of my familial and ancestral patterns and also tapped into some of the challenges I was having at home and that we were having with our teenage boys. She was able to see that I was digging myself out of a rut: both psychologically and physically. Regarding how I was feeling toward my body and my health circumstances, Gayle provided these powerful nuggets of truth:
You don’t have to continue to live life this way — it’s a choice
Befriend your body — begin to love and forgive it
You don’t need to be sick to be loved
I am not a victim of my circumstances or body
This is not Karmic punishment
Choosing not to participate in life is a subtle type of suicide
Suffering is Not a Requirement on the Path to Joy
I am here to learn how to own and use my Power
She also recommend a couple books, Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life and The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle. Louise’ message is all about the power of your thoughts and words and how they can impact your life. She has been called “the closest thing to a living Saint.” Louise passed in 2017 at the age of 90 — but her legacy lives on in the non-profit humanitarian Hay Foundation she created in 1986 in response to the AIDS epidemic. In 1987 Louise began Hay House company whose mission is, “dedicated to supporting positive change in the world by helping all people to grow in mind, body, and spirit.”
Eckart Tolle has been described as “the most popular spiritual author in the United States” and “the most spiritually influential person in the world”. His teachings focus on Presence or the awakened state of consciousness that transcends the ego. He sees this awakening as the essential next step in human evolution.
To assist in my climb out of that deep dark hole I had sunken into, I decided to turn back towards Spirituality to aid in my search for answers and perhaps some healing. But, let me back up here and give you an overview of my non-religious upbringing.
My Mother’s parents were Polish Catholic. They went to church regularly and she attended Sunday School taught by Nuns who put the fear of God and Hell in her as a little girl. My Father’s parents had come from the South and were Baptist. However, I don’t believe Dad was raised going to Church. I was baptized in the Catholic Church but don’t remember attending church. My parents had a falling out when my brother and I were very young; after which we never went back.
My parents divorced when I was ten; it was 1980 and the “New Age” movement was all the rage. My mom, fresh off divorce, and tired of the strict ideals of Catholicism that she’d been raised in, began seeking other forms of “religion.”
When I was growing up, before the divorce, we would hold rudimentary “séances” in our kitchen – we weren’t really trying to conjure anything, we were just having fun.
My mom frequently consulted the Ouija board to find missing items — from the precious porcelain Easter egg ornament (but that’s a story for another day) to my beloved pet hamster, Rusty Wayne Newton III, that had escaped from his cage when I was 12.
During Middle and High School mom introduced me to several spiritual books. Some of my favorites were Illusions, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and One by Richard Bach. He was probably my first introduction to Spirituality.
In college, for my Psychology degree, we had to select an adjunct area of concentration and I chose East Asian Cultures. My favorite class was Eastern Religion where we studied about Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. We read, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, one of my all-time favorite books for which I still have my beautiful worn collegiate copy. I also took several courses in Chinese History and Culture and the ancient Japanese Arts.
For Christmas during this time, Mom gave me a statue of two little Gurus smoking pipes and reading books. They join Black Bear on my altar.
Growing up, Mom and I consulted with a local astrologer and had our birth charts read. ‘Jerry’ described me to a T and I became hooked — I was enamored with the science of astrology. I love how it weaved the left brain sciences of mathematics, astronomy and physics together with right brain creativity, art, and intuition.
Later, as a young adult, I took a few classes in the evening at the nearby high school through a local astrologer. We learned the basics: signs, planets, houses, aspects, and an introduction of how to put it all together. I acquired books on the planets, astronomy, and even tipped a toe into Stephen Hawking and Quantum Mechanics. I’ve since accumulated probably 30 books on Astrology over the years and have been studying it on and off for as many.
In January 2021, when I decided to look for Spiritual Guidance, I did what everyone does nowadays and consulted the “Almighty Google”. I had no idea where to look or even what to search for, I just knew that I needed to start somewhere and find someone with an intuitive connection to the universe; someone who could possibly provide some insight as to why my life had been so damn difficult, someone who could help me learn how to heal and provide a hand up and out of the dark place I had been in for so long. Thus began my Spiritual “Reawakening.”
By the end of 2020, I was deep down the rabbit hole of self-pity and depression, as mentioned in my previous post, Dark Night of the Soul. I needed to get help. Months prior, my rheumatologist had given me the name of a social worker who was also her patient but I hadn’t called.
I hate starting with a new therapist. I had tried it years ago when the boys were little. But it wasn’t helpful. It’s difficult finding a therapist that I like that has experience treating a person like me — with a life-time of chronic illnesses that affects your mental, physical and emotional being; not to mention how it influences all relationships — especially marriage, children and maybe, and most importantly, the relationship to yourself! Could they understand why you act selfishly, always protecting; in that fight-or-flight mode? Why you may get defensive very easily because you feel constantly under attack, internally and externally, and misunderstood by everyone. Can they help with your loneliness and difficulty relating to peers, even your closest friends, because it feels like they live in a completely different world? Can a therapist understand how these diseases have shaped me so profoundly and impacted my every choice, decision, action, every single day of my life?
Let me back up and give you some history of my journey, so that you may have a better of understanding of why I was so painfully depressed
I was diagnosed at age 2 with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis after a week long stay in the hospital, upon complaining that my legs hurt. In 1972 parents weren’t allowed to stay with their children so I was alone most of the time. I was told that they had trouble finding a good vein (a challenge to this day) so they used my neck.
Fast forward to my earliest memories with this disease. Grade school was extremely difficult — by the time I was five years old, the JRA was attacking my ankles and knees mostly but would eventually attack every joint in my body and I hurt all over. I’d wake up extra early to soak in a steaming hot bath and take medication every single day and night so that I could function. I couldn’t walk the two blocks to school with my classmates because it was too far. In gym class, I had to sit on the stage and watch everybody else have fun and play. I couldn’t sit on the hard gym floor during assemblies so I took a seat on the sideline with the teachers. I hurt so much that I couldn’t make it across the field to the playground and had to hang out by myself or with the teachers who never provided me a seat because they were unaware. I couldn’t focus on school work and felt so different than all the other kids. I couldn’t walk home from school so I’d wait up to an hour sometimes in the office for the cab to pick me up because both my parents worked and the taxi company had forgotten me.
I missed a lot of school because of doctor appointments and suffered through countless blood draws of tiny veins that rarely cooperated. I learned how to “read” x-rays by the age of 8. Monthly gold injections became the norm and enormous needles drained my giant swollen-grapefruit-knees. There was often PT with endless lists of take-home ROM exercises to keep my joints from freezing up, which I hated, and rarely completed. It was difficult to play with neighborhood friends; to keep up with them on a bike, to play hide-and-seek because I could never get away fast enough.
The world was a very lonely place. I spent a lot of my childhood alone, inside and by myself. I had a lot of time to think and I pondered the big questions about life — the type of things that most people don’t even begin to question until maturity — if at all. I viewed the world as unfair, uncaring, unknowing. I felt so isolated, sad, angry and depressed. I questioned why God would allow a child to suffer so much…
Thankfully, by middle school, the active inflammatory JRA finally quieted down a bit and I was able to have some fun, make more friends and just be a kid. However, the damage caused by 10 years of the disease had begun to take a toll on my joints and this part of the disease — the breaking down and eroding of cartilage and damaging bones and surrounding soft tissues — continues to this day. My first surgery was at age 12 for a loose knee-cap. The surgery didn’t work and that knee-cap slid back-and-forth for 40 more years until I finally had it totally replaced. My second surgery I was 15 and a sophomore in high school. I woke up one morning and couldn’t move my left ring finger; the arthritis had eroded my wrist which severed through the tendon causing my finger not work anymore.
My freshman year in college I fractured my calcaneus, or heel bone, from walking too much. On the up side, I was allowed to have a car on campus. That’s when I obtained a handicapped placard — at the ripe old age of 18!
When I was 29, and newly married, my left hip started locking up and causing excruciating pain. There was no more cartilage left and it had to be replaced. That was my first joint replacement, a total hip, which is still going strong 23 years later (touch wood!)
When I was 33, and pregnant with my first son, I contracted Viral Meningitis and was taking Vicodin (per my doctor) so that my head would not explode. Two months later we found out there was something wrong with our baby. After several blood tests and ultrasounds it was confirmed that he had a neck mass. During the remainder of the pregnancy, I had countless ultrasounds and MRIs. Thankfully the mass was growing at the same rate as him so I was able to proceed with the pregnancy. Two weeks before Dylan was due, our hospital told us they wouldn’t deliver him because we were too high risk and were transferred to U of M where we knew nobody. At my 40-week check up they noted his heart rate dropping, admitted me and began Pitocin. I labored painfully until dilated to a six before getting an epidural.
Eventually his heart rate dropped again and they performed an emergency C-section. The cord was wrapped around his neck three times and he couldn’t breathe because the tumor encroached his airway. He was whisked away immediately and intubated. Baby Dylan had life-saving surgery at five days old. He stayed in the NICU for three weeks until we could finally take him home. During that time we stayed at the adjoining hospital hotel while I recovered from the C-section and was pumping breast milk around the clock.
During the first year of his life we fought to keep his weight up because he couldn’t latch on and had difficulty sucking from a bottle. We did local occupational therapy and had many trips back-and-forth to U of M Hospital. In the end, he pulled through everything like a champ but by October I hit bottom and fell into a delayed postpartum depression. I began taking antidepressants and slowly came back around, but my challenges would continue. Dylan had two more surgeries by the time he was five; one to remove the rest of the tumor and the second to close the gap left behind in the pharynx. He had many years of speech therapy, some occupational, then later vision therapy.
I am so happy to report that he has become an exceptional young man; brilliant, caring, and kind with a gentle soul. I know that although he had a very difficult start in life, he is meant to be here and will help to bring positive changes to this world!!!
When Dylan was about two-and-a-half, we started trying for another baby. By this time I was considered “old” at 37 so I had to undergo genetic testing. Plus, we wanted to understand the odds of having another baby born with challenges. As soon as we had the “all clear” I had a spontaneous miscarriage. Then a second at 10 weeks along and I was heartbroken. We had heard the tiny heartbeat and we were so happy. I had a scheduled D&C and we never found out the sex of the fetus — it was too sad.
Ethan Michael was born via C-section in February 2007. He was healthy and adorable with a full head of hair – just like his big brother. I had gained about 30 pounds and was “all baby”. However, the strain on my lower back was excruciating and I asked my Doctor to please deliver him as early as he safely could. Ethan’s start in life was so easy — he slept really well and had a voracious appetite. At his 1-year check up he was 30″ and 30 pounds!! He was the happiest little (big) guy and adored his big brother! He made all kinds of noises and his hearing was just fine but actually said very few words by age 21/2. He was diagnosed with Delayed Speech and had to do therapy for a couple of years. I am happy to say that Ethan has a wonderful vocabulary and has no issues with speech anymore.
February 1, 2009 I landed back in the hospital. The prior months of 2008 I had been experiencing a lot of diarrhea and had lost about 20 pounds (which is a LOT for me because I’m petite to begin with). I was in so much pain in the gut that I couldn’t keep anything in. Everything hurt to eat or drink, even water, and I became super week. So, on my baby’s 2nd birthday, instead of seeing Elmo On Ice, I was having a colonscopy in the hospital. The biopsy confirmed that I had Lymphocytic Colitis — inflammation of the large intestine; my second chronic autoimmune disease. It was around this time I began to experience occasional severe night sweats. After blood tests and an MRI everything came back just fine — I wasn’t “sick”, I had begun peri-menopause at age 39!
By the end of 2009, I had had enough!!! Enough pain, enough sadness, enough challenges to last a life time. My boys were now 6 and almost 3, I was a full-time stay-at-home mom whose body was falling apart and whose mental health was hanging on by a thread. My lower back felt broken, my ankles were mush, I had sciatica running down my right leg, and my colon was a wreak. I was taking pain pills daily along with my other cocktail of prescriptions, adding alcohol into my coffee in the morning and crying all the time. I had support from my mom, who helped me tremendously with the boys and my husband did his best to support and comfort me and take care of the boys when he could in the evenings and on weekends. But, I was in agony and seriously thought about taking that entire bottle of pills more than once.
In March of 2010 a small ray of light peaked through the clouds when I had my first Total Ankle Replacement. After being turned down from the only local orthopedic surgeon performing total ankles at the time, for being, “too young” at 40 I did my research and found a doctor in Ohio who would prove to be my knight in shining armor. Dr. Berlet said my ankles were basically “mush” and that most people would be in a wheelchair by now. In December of that same year, after 2 years of failed back injections I had an S1-L3 Lower Lumber Fusion. In the summer of 2011 I went back to Ohio and had the right ankle replaced. I wrote a previous blog post about this time called Lost and Found.
Finally, I had a bit of a reprieve from the worst of my disease. For the next 5 years I focused on being a mom, a wife, and following my passions. I volunteered at my boys’ school, we took a few incredible trips, including the Dominican Republic, Paris and New York City. I took several art classes, learned oil painting, and created this website.
In 2016 I decided to have my left elbow replaced. It had begun to bend and was starting to hurt. In the summer of 2017 I had surgery to remove part of the underside of my tongue due precancerous cells from Oral Lichen Planus; my third chronic autoimmune disease. In November, I had my right elbow replaced for the first time. After this surgery my painting quickly came to a halt but I found other creative outlets such as Family Genealogy and taking on-line classes to learn about Essential Oils. In the summer of 2018, I injured my right knee in Cancun and in the Fall I fell off a bike and broke my right clavicle and suffered a black eye.
One year later, in the Fall of 2019, I finally picked up a paintbrush again and took a class from a well-known local artist which I detailed in several previous posts. The class was incredible — I learned more in that one class and met the most incredible group of women — I was in heaven, but it wouldn’t last. I had put way too much stress on these new elbows by carrying over the weight limit (10 pounds each) and painting furiously. I suffered the consequences dearly and had loosened both components of my right elbow. Another surgery to kick off the New Year! Yippie!! That’s the one that was my D-Day — a foreshadowing of the year to come, not just for me but for the world at large. Cue the High Blood Pressure (fourth autoimmune disease), unrelating hot flashes, and first neck fusion in the summer.
So, by the beginning of 2021, I was more than ready to make that call to the therapist — the one my rheumatologist had recommended over a year ago. I knew I was drowning and needed a life-preserver. Even if she couldn’t solve my full-blown existential crisis, she could relate to me as a woman, as a wife, as a mother and as someone living with chronic disease.
We talked for many months over the course of the year. She was able to empathize with my situation probably more than a “typical” therapist ever could. It really helped to tell all my bullshit to somebody objective, who didn’t judge, and who wasn’t related! I felt a bit less alone and a bit less depressed. Although we didn’t create any miracles, I do feel that she helped me take one small step out of that deep dark hole. And for this I am grateful!
2020 was a very difficult year for me. Starting out with that awful elbow revision in January from COVID-19 forcing all of us indoors into our shared spaces with little to do except drive each other CRAZY, to my summer of high blood pressure, hot flashes, and failed ACDF surgery, and not to mention I found the current President absolutely vile (but not everyone in my circle felt the same) which only made my loathing of him even more profound and at odds with certain loved ones. Again — circle back to Insanity.
I worried about my failing body, knowing full-well that people like me don’t age gracefully and usually expire early due to complications of the disease. Would my elbow need another revision? Would it even be possible? What happens if it isn’t? I was terrified to use it given the Hell that I went through. How long would these ankles last me? I was already going on 10 and 9 years respectfully; longer than my doctor had envisioned. When were they going to give out? My right hand is deforming more and more each year – and often the tendons seize up (which makes it very hard to paint, type, write, anything fine motor) and have to be forced back into place. My left shoulder was acting up also – what the fuck was this now?
By the end of the year I was feeling like a caged tiger — in my mind, in my body, in my spirit, in my family, in my home, in my community, in my world. Nobody was getting along, I felt unloved, unsupported, and misunderstood by my family, betrayed by my body, convinced my soul had a plan to leave early, so why even bother trying? Why did I incarnate into this extremely challenging life? What was the point of any of it? I felt so down and lost and couldn’t see a way out. I thought very seriously about giving up and letting go; I even had a plan. However, I couldn’t do that to my husband and kids, my parents, my closest friends. I had to find a way out of the deep dark hole…
At the end of September we went downtown to check out a really cool spot in Detroit called The Belt. Known as a “culturally redefined alley in the heart of downtown” and named for its physical orientation in a former downtown garment district, The Belt is located between Broadway and Library Street and links Gratiot and Grand River. The project was conceptualized and curated by Detroit-based art galleryLibrary Street Collective. Even the parking garage walls are painted in a graffiti-larger-than-life comic book style. As you enter The Belt you see various large-scale art installments and murals — each one curated by a different artist — that rotate throughout the years.
When we were there the Country was still reeling from the murder of George Floyd. In response, Dallas-based artist Jammie Holmes initiated a public demonstration, across five U.S. cities. On May 30, Airplanes with banners flying Floyd’s final words connected these cities in a national protest of police brutality against Black Americans.
“The Belt is another example of our growing interest in reimagining underutilized spaces throughout the city. This formerly desolate alley has transformed into one of the most dynamic pedestrian-friendly public spaces in the country.”
— Anthony Curis, founder of Library Street Collective
During the summer I was experiencing heart palpitations, exhaustion, and almost constant, relenting, all-over hot flashes. Any amount of activity would bring at least one (and usually all three) of these lovely symptoms crushing down on me. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to do a whole lot of anything and I was cranky as hell. With COVID-19 still in full swing, we were very careful and didn’t venture out too much; I felt like a caged animal: like an angry, sweaty, badger and since I wouldn’t be able to start HRT until the Fall, I had to “sweat” it out.
I turned my attention to my blood pressure. I had been on high blood pressure medicine years ago but then was weaned off and hadn’t been taking meds for it ever since. I purchased a new BP cuff and started using it regularly: it was evident that something was wrong — the numbers were incredibly high and I was worried. It took a couple of months and two medications to get things under control.
I finally decided to have a cervical surgery for my ongoing neck/shoulder/nerve issues. Over the past 7 years, I had done everything under the sun to get some relief including anti-inflammatories, opioids, muscle relaxers, medical marijuana and CBD, injections, massage, acupuncture, TENS, and physical therapy. Due to my J/RA for almost 50 years, my neck is auto-fused in two places and I have severe degeneration with both spinal and foraminal stenosis resulting in pain, tingling, numbness and nerve damage.
In mid July I had an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) C4-5. The incision is made from the front of the neck, the affected disc/s are removed and replaced with a spacer, and the surrounding osteophytes are removed. Then a small plate and screws are placed to fuse the level.
Overall the surgery seemed to help a wee bit but not as much as I had hoped. But more about that later…
Over the July 4th Holiday our family took a mini vacation to Suttons Bay, Michigan. It is one of the small towns along the infamous M22– a 116 mile stretch of highway along the beautiful Lake Michigan coastline in the upper lower peninsula. Located in gorgeous Leelanau county, famous for its 27 Wineries, Suttons Bay is 20 miles North of Traverse City and is a small quaint waterfront town with specialty shops, eateries and it’s own beach.
I was able to snag a cute little 2-bedroom apartment for us that allowed dogs. It was located above an art gallery right on the main street. We arrived in the early evening and after getting settled in, we explored the town, ate a delicious meal outside at the historic V.I.Grill and then capped off the night with amazing ice cream from 22 Scoops!
The next day, July 2nd, was my husband’s birthday. Lucky dog– his birthday always coincides with the national holiday and we frequently do a little get away given the extra time off of work.
For that day we decided to check out Torch Lake. If you’re not familiar, this long inland lake is known as the “Caribbean of the Midwest”. Although it is quite deep in areas, it boasts an enormous sandbar where the water is only about 3′ deep — a haven for boaters and partiers! And in these shallow areas the water sparkles under the sun, even the deeper lake is a gorgeous blue!
While the main beach/park was closed, we found a small little outlet to swim. It was extremely refreshing after the 90° heat wave we were experiencing.
Afterward, B and I toasted his birthday with margaritas and we all enjoyed a Mexican dinner in Traverse City.
The last couple of days we did a bit of local shopping, drove along M22 to explore the other waterfront towns around us, visited the Grand Traverse Bay Lighthouse, went to the local Suttons Bay beach and ended each night with a giant scoop of ice cream from 22 Scoops!
So, I finally turned 50! I can’t really believe it. Mentally I still feel like a kid most days and physically– well, physically I feel 100! So, I guess 50 makes sense! Having a milestone birthday during this Pandemic is a huge letdown. I’d told my husband years ago that I wanted to do something big for my 50th; like a hot air balloon ride over some gorgeous place — Italy-Paris? Or vacation in the Maldives or do an African Safari – just the two of us. Or perhaps a tummy-tuck with a side of liposuction? If I was able – I think I would love to try skydiving!
Needless to say none of those occured. The day was quite uneventful but my boys made the best of it. They snuck out and brought me Tim Hortons in the morning. In the evening I was treated to Chicken Shack ribs and a spinning musical flower with candles atop my favorite carrot cake from J. Alexanders — Yummy 🙂
The table was decorated with really beautiful champagne-colored balloons with tiny LEDs inside that stayed lit for days. My friends and family had sent flower arrangements and my husband gave me two sweet necklaces that fit together — representing our family. While it wasn’t the birthday I’d hoped for, we made the best of it — and years from now I’ll always remember turning 50 during the Great Pandemic of 2020.
So when I started to re-blog again and update this site, I checked all my links to make sure they’re still working. When checking the links to my art teachers/mentors on my resume, I ran into a conundrum. Kathy Krupa’s site said it didn’t exist anymore. That’s odd, I thought, but then I remembered I haven’t seen her posting on social media or commenting on any of my posts — like she usually did.
I dug a little deeper and finally reached her obituary page. I’m still shocked and saddened typing this some two months later; to learn that this wonderful lady, mentor, teacher, had passed at such a young age. Apparently, she had a heart condition, unbeknownst to me, from a young age and experienced an episode that ended her life in September ’19 at 58 years of age.
Kathy is someone I owe a lot to, in terms of my art. I met her about 14 years ago and began taking classes from her shortly after when my oldest son was about 2 and my now teenager wasn’t even here yet. She taught me how to stipple with inks and how to use pastels. I took classes from her– on and off– for several years. She was such a wonderful soul, had a great laugh and smile, loved animals, and was a gentle graceful teacher. She was the person who led me back into art again as an adult and help rekindle my passion for the medium. I wrote about her on a previous post.
I think of her often and fondly and know that she’s now in Heaven surrounded by all the animals that she brought to life for her clients and friends.
RIP Kathy Krupa — you will be remembered and loved always.
After 7 days in the hospital I was good to go home at last– to my family; people, fuzzies and friends– to recuperate. With the help of my loved ones, a little red wine and some medicinal herb, I was able to put the past week behind me and heal pretty quickly.
After a week or so at home, the surgical pain was gone and I was eager to get back to painting. Although I was still in a cast, my arm was bandaged nearly straight (approx 90° angle) which allowed me to paint– broader, looser strokes anyway. I managed to work on the farm animal diptych begun in November from the Painting With Attitude class with Nancy Mitchnick. A couple weeks later, the stitches were out and I was freed from the cast. I completed the painting, which my older son has endearingly named, “Barnyard Surprise!”
In early March the “Gang of 4” met up for a luncheon at the BBAC in my honor. It was so great to see my art friends and catch up. The girls brought/made little thoughtful gifts for me — I was so touched! Nancy gave me two metal Milagro pieces; a small arm and a larger hand.
Milagro translates to “Miracle” in Spanish and these small trinkets have been part of Latin American culture for centuries. Traditionally used in religious prayer, a Milagro may be given to a loved one to convey a sense of well-being or well- wishes.
I strung them together with a personal zodiac necklace of mine and added a few extra colored beads to create a new piece.
In addition to the Milagros, Nancy gave me an awesome palette knife and a mini Isabey painting brush! One of my favorites!! Laura brought delicious strawberry preserves for everyone, Kristen painted a mini-milagro canvas of an arm, and Cynthia (who is an incredible dressmaker) hand-knitted a pair of arm cozies for me!! You can see all the wonderful gifts in the last picture — Zoe the cat approved! It was such a wonderful afternoon and I truly feel blessed to have these incredible women in my life!
January 13th, after 5 days in the hospital, while awaiting my new elbow components, my poor body had had enough! Early in the morning my IV began to really hurt – it hadn’t been moved since first placed on the 9th. My nurse had a terrible time finding a new vein that would cooperate — after two or three tries she found a spot that finally succumbed. I’m pretty used to this as I have very small veins, but it still hurts a lot. This episode would set the stage for what would be the most difficult day of my life…
The young phlebotomists came next for my morning blood draw. Once again, my veins were playing hide-and-seek. Every time they found a potential candidate, the vein would collapse, this went on for a while, until finally, maybe after 3 or 4 tries, my body finally agreed to play nice. By this time I was in tears, partly from the physical pain, but mostly from the emotional pain.
In the late afternoon, my splint/bandages began to pinch, hurt, and itch. I gently pushed aside a couple of layers and to my horror, this is what I saw…
… I slowly peeled back a few more layers… I was horrified. I called the nurse and showed her what I discovered and demanded she call my doctor. She called the orthopedic resident on staff — who of course was nowhere to be found — after he/she didn’t answer the call for what seemed like hours, I asked her to call MY residents who were part of my surgical team; of course they were in surgery!
Around 7PM my two residents finally appear. After showing them what I discovered, Dr. F began documenting on the computer, while Dr. L, who seemed annoyed and unmoved by my situation, took a closer look. He said they just looked like swelling/ pressure sores — basically no big deal. I told him it was really bothering me and uncomfortable and asked if they could please loosen the bandages — after all I was going into surgery the next morning. He quickly pulled out his cutting shears, cut through the top of the bandages and then ripped them apart in such a manner that I screamed in pain. No apology, no nothing… Dr. F came over, carefully took a look and seemed genuinely concerned about what he saw. They finished up the documentation, took a few pictures, and just left. They didn’t bother to put a clean dressing on or wrap my arm back up — they just left.
I sat there in disbelief about what had just happened; tears running down my cheeks, anger and sorrow in my heart. After a few minutes I worked up the courage to slowly pull all the torn, shredded pieces of dressing and bandages off my bloody arm and saw the full extent of the damage…
As I lie in the hospital bed, waiting for morning to come, the day of my second surgery, I started thinking about everything – everything this stupid disease has taken from me — all the things I could never do — and would not ever be able to do in the future — knowing full well that things will only progress and I will probably die young from some related heart issue. People with RA have a higher incidence of inflammation around the heart and typically die about 5 years earlier than their peers. When I was younger and more stupid, I asked a psychic how old I would live. 54 was her answer. I know it’s foolish to believe her, but who knows… it’s been in the back of my mind ever since. There are days I welcome the thought. When you live with a chronic disease all your life, your view on living and dying are very different than most. I recently read a quote from a lady in my situation, she said, “I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of getting older.” I couldn’t have said it any better.
January 14 finally arrived and the poor phlebotomists arrive to take my blood early in the morning. I took one look and said vehemently, “NO!” I must of scared them, by the look in their eyes, I felt bad and explained that my veins had collapsed the day before and I’m barely hanging on here by a thread, and unless they ABSOLUTELY NEED MY BLOOD, THEY ARE NOT GETTING A DROP! They double-checked the order, confirmed it with the nurse and left!
A few hours later, it was surgery time. By now, my husband had come and joined me. I filled him in on the trials of the day and he felt horrible and wanted to kill Dr. L (me too!). While I was getting ready to head off to the pre-op room, the pre-op nurse, comes barreling in, exclaiming that I need a pregnancy test! My nurse was there as well, getting all the pre-op documentation done on the computer, I’d surmised. By this point, I had had enough, was so lethargic, and depressed, that I basically ignored her, muttered underneath my breath that I wasn’t pregnant and headed off to pee one more time. She comes to help me and I’m like, Bitch Please I’ve been doing this 10 times a day since I got here, all by myself, I DO NOT need or want your help!!! She kept insisting. I finally broke and yelled, “I am not pregnant! I am 50 years old and had a tubal 20 fucking years ago!” This time I didn’t feel bad — I’d had enough incompetence for the day — week — month — year to last a lifetime!!! My nurse came to my rescue and the two of them got into it – I must admit, as I sat pissing on the toilet – I small smile came across my face!
As I was in the bathroom – the two porters came to take me down to the pre-op. As you can imagine, I was in NO MOOD for jokes or humor. One of the guys kept trying to make me smile or laugh, I know his heart was in the right place, I just wasn’t having any of it! I wanted to punch him in the face as we boarded the elevator. You could tell the other guy could “read the room” and knew I was NOT happy. They delivered me to the pre-op room. My “lovely” nurse joined us. I apologized for biting her head off as did she. It was probably late morning/early afternoon by now and of course, by surgery was delayed. My OR was busy and my surgeon was at a different hospital finishing up surgery with another patient. So, we waited for a while. It was a nice breather after all the chaos.
An hour or so later, the pre-op stuff begins. Once again, the short respite flew out the window— My IV had stopped working properly and needed to be replaced, again, for surgery. The nurse tried without success, a few times. The anesthesiologist resident tried, unsuccessfully, a couple times. The chief anesthesiologist – who was in my first surgery was standing at the end of the gurney – I was staring into his eyes as the pokes continued – tears now streaming down my eyes then (as they are now as I relive this), I could see him tear up as well. Even after the ultrasound was called in so they could locate my veins – it wasn’t working. He finally sent the resident away and jumped in – locating a viable vien– eventually. All the while, I was praying for the Lord to just take me! Take me away from this life, from this pain…
By this time, Dr. Wiater had seen the images of the pressure sores. So when he arrived, an hour or so later, during our pre-op consult, he said he wasn’t sure if he could proceed with the surgery as planned; it would depend on what they found once in there — the extent of the skin wounds. I was so “dead” by this time, but I could feel my blood pressure rise as I glared into his eyes; I was speechless. Eventually I agreed to whatever he deemed best. Shortly afterward, as the drugs entered my bloodstream, I was able to find sweet peace…
Hours later, in post-op, I awoke to the most horrific pain — it was as if nothing was getting through or into my veins. I was crying and yelling. The nurse claimed they had given all they could, “I gave you Fentanyl, I gave you Dilaudid, I gave you the strongest stuff we have!” It wasn’t working. It wasn’t until she added Oxy to the cocktail that I began to feel any relief. Eventually, my pain subsided, my blood pressure calmed down and I was able to breath again. Once things were under control, I learned that indeed my elbow had been replaced; the wounds, though nasty, were superficial.
I went home two days later to rest and recuperate from the surgeries; my nightmare– my D-Day– one of the worst weeks of my life — was finally behind me.
This is gonna be a tough one to write about – but hopefully it will be cathartic. Although I’ve shared the details with my family and close friends, it’s still hard to relive it again. Red wine is poured — here we go…
Going into my elbow revision surgery on January 9th I wasn’t too phased or worried, I just wanted it over and done with so I could be back home, recuperate, and get back to life and painting again. Afterall, this would be my 10th surgery related to my arthritis/autoimmune issues– I could practically sail through it in my sleep – or so I thought.
Prior to the 9th my doctor was concerned about an infection being the reason for the loose components, even though I shared with him that I had probably caused it from overuse and lifting over my limit of 10 pounds. I had preliminary blood work done to check for any signs of infection — all cultures came back negative. We had talked about the possibility of a two-part surgery; the first to remove the damaged components while antibiotic spacing beads would secure the arm and the second, a month or so afterward, to place the new components. Needless to say, I was less than thrilled with that idea but agreed that we needed to do what was best. On the day of surgery, he proposed a revised plan.
On the 9th, while in pre-op, Dr. Brett and I discussed the surgical plan. He would remove the components today, place the antibiotic spacers, run more tests to be sure I was infection-free, and if all went well I would have the 2nd surgery in about 5 days. All while I stayed in the hospital. I agreed that this was a much better plan and we proceeded.
The first surgery went well. He was able to remove the components and place the antibiotic beads without trouble. I did learn however, afterward, that the anesthesiologist had a difficult time with my airway. I was not surprised, my neck is severely limited and this wasn’t the first time I’d heard this. I did tell him this fact on the pre-op screen, but it was more difficult than he’d planned. So, now officially I have, “A Difficult Airway” going forward. Just great… Another thing to add to the list…
My surgery was a bit delayed, so by the time I was out of post-op and in my room it was evening. I don’t know if my nurse was new or just bad, or both, but it’s really not the sort of thing you want just after surgery. She kept referring to my “shoulder replacement”, would forget things I asked for, and never seemed to be available when I needed her.
And maybe I’m hypercritical or spoiled because for all my other surgeries at this hospital my stepmother was the well-liked and well-respected CNO (Chief Nurse Officer) for the entire hospital system – I was treated very well! She retired last year and still had many friends, but the hospital had recently gone through many changes. I still had a private room and a few of her friends came to check on me – but it didn’t feel the same this time.
Anyway — besides my first nurse being a complete ditz, the hospital didn’t have my main anti-inflammatory medication on formulary and worse yet, an anti-inflammatory wasn’t even listed on my post-op orders. If you’re not familiar – things move very slowly in a hospital. It took many hours before I had my medicine and at the next shift change — I had to go through it all over again! It wasn’t until a few shifts later that they finally got it right!!
If you have a small bladder like me – make sure you get a catheter or bring your own Depends because it takes the nurse or assistant F-O-R-E-V-E-R to come once you press the Call button– If they come at all!
Here I am, drugged up and being pumped full of giant bags of antibiotics (just in case) and medicine intravenously, I’ve got the “sucky-blowy” anti-blood-clot things on my legs, IV in my left arm, giant heavy splint on my right arm with attached drain port to a machine on the floor, and I have to pee every freaking half hour! It sounds comical now, but believe you me, it was anything but funny at the time. Eventually I got the hang of doing it all by myself — I had to — there was no other option!
The food wasn’t too bad, once they got my order right! For the first 2-3 meals I was sent up a tray that I didn’t even order. And I was starving!! Again – someone screwed up! My order had gotten put in the system twice or something screwy like that – anyway – again, it took forever to get that corrected! And speaking of food and eating – do you know not one person – nurse or assistant – offered to help at least cut up my food? I know it sounds petty, but when you have surgery involving your dominant arm/hand/elbow, wouldn’t you think they would make a note and at least offer to help the patient? Again – I managed to figure it out by myself. Of course my food was always cold and kind of gross by the end – but I managed.
About 3 days after the surgery, the splint/bandage began to really hurt and feel as if my circulation was being cut off around my wrist and hand. A PA on the floor was able to loosen the contraption for me and it felt much better for a while.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, just so you get the full picture here – I was having full blown awful hot flashes during this time — like every hour out of the blue I would be drenched in sweat. They were able to provide me with a small portable fan that I kept on and I had turned down the room temperature really low just so I could survive. Every time someone came in they’d say the same thing, “It’s freezing in here! Are you O.K.?”
Between cat-naps, daily blood draws and Heparin shots, gallons of IV fluids, 5 a.m. doctor rounds, and a gazillion bathroom trips, I eventually fell into a bit of a routine while waiting around for my next surgery. My family and friends visited and would bring me real food and Starbucks and I even wore my own comfortable clothes from home. I caught up on a few movies on my IPad and watched the HBO docu-series Chernobyl. (Outstanding, by the way, if you haven’t seen it, please do!) All my results were coming back negative for infection, as I knew they would, and things were looking good for the second surgery.
The Mitchnick “Gang of 4” continued onward to the Detroit Institute of Arts; one of my favorite places in the city. Nancy had set up a private presentation of the Diego Rivera murals. If you’ve never been to the DIA or seen these incredible murals in person – you really must! I wish I could remember the name of the docent — he’s a lawyer by day and volunteers at the DIA part-time. What a crazy dichotomy! He was so knowledgeable about the Murals — Not only did we learn about the rich history, he also showed us the hidden symbolism Diego had painted into his work and told us a few stories to boot. I wish I had recorded it!
Four walls. Twenty-seven paintings. Nine months of labor-intensive work.
In 1932, Diego was commissioned by the DIA and Edsel Ford to paint two large murals for the Garden Court with the understanding that the work must relate to the history of Detroit and the development of industry. The investors knew hiring a Mexican artist during the Depression would be controversial, but the men were very impressed with his work and went forward. Frida and Diego packed up and headed East in the summer of 1932 and were in Detroit for almost a year.
Using the ancient fresco technique, Rivera and his workers created the complex murals spanning the four enormous walls. Diego depicted multiple modern industries and technologies historically rooted in the ancient Mexican Aztec people. All while weaving in controversial scenes that questioned technology’s place in the world — both socially and politically.
When the murals were finally unveiled in 1933, many people objected and said they were crude, vulgar, and blasphemous. Apparently, Edsel Ford never publicly commented on the matter, but he did issue a statement saying “I admire Rivera’s spirit. I really believe he was trying to express his idea of the spirit of Detroit.”
When Frida and Diego arrived in Detroit, she was pregnant with their child and she hated the city! It was hot and stinky near the Rouge Factory where they stayed, and she was bored! Who could blame her? Sadly, Frida lost the baby shortly after they arrived. This proved to be a turning point in her art — after the miscarriage Frida began to paint about her personal life and all its pain — surviving polio as a child and suffering in a horrific bus accident — had left her body a painful mess. This is the Frida that we’ve come to know and love – sometimes I feel that we are soulmates – or the same soul…
In December our little “Gang of 4” were treated to an incredible field trip to see Nancy’s studio at the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit and receive an outstanding one-on-one talk at the DIA on Diego Rivera and his Detroit Industry murals.
History of Russell Industrial Center
In 1915, the Center, a 2,200,000-square-foot (200,000 m2), seven building complex, was designed by Albert Kahn for John William Murray. Over the years it has been used for various manufacturing industries (automotive, military, metal stamping, household appliances, printing) and has passed through many owners. From 1970-1991 it was even owned by the notorious billionaire Leona Helmsley, hotelier and tax evader.
In 1998 the Center was closed as it suffered major damage from storms and the printing company could no longer sustain. The RIC fell into major disrepair and sat vacant until 2003 when it was purchased by a local development company for 1 million dollars. Since then it has become a community hub for local artists and small businesses.
Detroit artist Kobie Solomon‘s “Chimera” mural is painted on the side of the RIC. Measuresing 8,750 square feet, it is the largest mural in the state of Michigan. Kobie combined a bit of Detroit history along with the four major sports teams; the Detroit Lions (NFL), Detroit Pistons (NBA), Detroit Red Wings (NHL) and Detroit Tigers (MLB) in his creation.
We made our way downtown and meandered through the enormous complex until we located the Art Building. Nancy was already there to greet us and let us in. We rode up in the old style industrial elevator — the unsteady, creaking, wire-barred kind you see in scary movies — to her studio.
We were greeted by a friend of Nancy’s, fellow Detroit artist, Darcel Deneau. She let us check out her extra large studio space filled with incredible glass mosaics of the city. When putting this post together, I discovered more about her art and her incredibly heart-breaking story.
Next we headed over to Nancy’s studio. It’s a nice size space that offers a lot of natural light. She let us explore for a bit and showed us some of her wonderful paintings. Then we all sat down for a bit, had coffee and snacks, and talked about art and life. Nancy is a natural born storyteller and she’s accumulated so many great ones over the course of her life. We all said she should write a book– it’d be a bestseller!
Just down the long corridor was another friend of Nancy’s who had agreed to let us peak inside his studio. Alan Bennetts is a young Detroit artist and recent graduate of the Cranbrook Academy of Arts MFA Program. His artist statement reveals the intention for his current project that we were treated to view up close:
I seek to examine the varied positions consumer technologies occupy in both our collective and individual perception. In particular, the way these familiar, often intimate objects fundamentally change when they cease to function in the way in which they were intended. AB
I was blown away by Alan’s eye for detail and steady hand in creating these incredible works of art. How in the world could he achieve such accuracy in the tones of grey, black, silver, white… I’ll never know.
I fondly remembered that we had many of the stereo pieces in the 1980’s and a wave of memories came flooding back — dancing to Madonna and listening to U2s, “The Joshua Tree” in our basement and watching my step-dad spend countless hours making mixed-tapes. It was a great trip down memory lane.
After meeting the artists and touring their studios we headed over to the Detroit Institute of Arts for a phenomenal private lecture from a DIA docent who really knew his stuff! It was turning out to be an incredible day! Stay tuned for Day in Detroit — Part II.
By this time, I had been painting for two months, at least 3-4 days a week outside of the classroom plus class time. When I paint at home I usually start in the evening and paint into the wee hours of the morning. My right arm— fingers.. hand.. wrist.. elbow.. neck.. shoulder— were all getting very sore. I carry my supplies in a Husky roll-cart which is very light on wheels to pull around. However, once full, it is very heavy for me to lift into/out of trunk (I’m limited to lifting 10 pounds per elbow due to my replacements). I thought I was being careful, but not careful enough.
In mid-November, I noticed a small protruding bump about three inches below my elbow that was painful to the touch. I made an appointment the next day to see my orthopedic surgeon. He confirmed what I suspected; a small fracture of the radius bone. What I was not expecting to hear was that both components of my elbow replacement were loose! Dr. Michael Wiater passed me over to his brother, Dr. Brett Wiater for the revision process; apparently he had more experience in the area. From here on out, Brett would now be my surgeon. I would have to have my elbow redone or “Revised.” Since it wasn’t painful and the fracture would probably heal on its own, we set a surgery date for January 9th, 2020 — my 21st wedding anniversary!
Well, at least it’s something you can use! said my friend when I told her I was getting a new elbow for my anniversary.
Needless to say, I had to leave Nancy’s class and slow down — again. I was very disappointed and depressed. Once again, I felt like my body let me down and fucked me over.
Our next assignment, and last for me, would be a diptych. Wikipedia defines a diptych as, ‘an artwork consisting of two pieces or panels, that together create a singular art piece that can be attached together or presented adjoining each other’. Earliest pieces were frequently hinged and depicted biblical or religious themes. Diptychs often represent opposition/contrasting objects or elements. A triptych (three panels) might represent a sequence or a change; like those prints you see in stores of the different seasons.
I couldn’t really decide on an idea for the diptych so I went with a picture I’d saved to paint some day. The image is of several farm animals standing together and taken by well-known animal photographer Rob MacInnis.
We worked on our pieces for the next several classes. These were to be our pièces de résistance — our masterpieces! Below you can see a few of the multiple iterations the animals went through as I tried to figure them out.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to complete the diptych by the end of class term, but I did finish it up in the new year! More about that in my next post. Stay tuned…
The name of our class was Painting With Attitude. Each week we were treated to new “Nancy Notes”– a bit philosophy, a bit about art – a bit about our upcoming class assignment. Here are a few of my most favorite nuggets from the third week of class.
“Get The Paint On“…
“…You’re going to paint with strength and vigor…and not be afraid of making a mess of it…I hope we don’t have to get drunk like those dreadful painting parties….”
“The way paint gets onto the canvas…attack… advance…softly… intensely brave…capable of being reworked.. scraped off and put back..but mostly with intention, force (light or heavy), fearlessly, serenely, but NOT tentative and weak…Or so thin that it’s barely there…“
“We have to go back…It is your nervous system that you need to connect to, your touch, your aggression that so many of us don’t allow ourselves. It isn’t easy to make gentle work that is strong… all the forms depend on each other… There is a way to be in the moment, conscious, where every mark does something…“
“One of the tests of a good painting is ‘how long can you look at it?’, Hang your work on the wall…if you get tired of seeing it after a few weeks or notice you never look at it…Well?“
“What makes the art we love so possible to never get tired of… has to do with the state of the artists mind as the work was being made …the kind of connections that were happening between the eye, and the hand and the mind.“
“Why are mistakes so scary? Why does getting it ‘right’ mean only how it looks and not how it feels? What happens when it feels great but looks a mess? What do you have to do to make the paint alive and as necessary as the picture you are trying to copy? How do you the means and the subject to be equal to each other?“
“When it works is it Magic?”
“How can you stand it when it is strongly painted but ugly?”
Can you leave your comfort zone? How far? A little tiny bit… a jump off a cliff? NMM