No tears, even after four years, I have not cried. I have never cried about the heart attack, the stroke, the paralysis that occurred on April 4, 2012, Wednesday in Kingston, Jamaica. I have never cried about the resulting open heart surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on April 6, 2012, Friday, after an emergency airlift. It was Good Friday, a full moon and my fifty eighth birthday. My surgeon, Dr. Tomas Salerno, Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery, told me that I could die from the surgery, I could die from not having the surgery and that even with a 10% chance of survival, I could be paralyzed, lose my memory or my speech. I didn't cry from the terror of open heart surgery or the fear of possible death. It happened so quickly, there were no tears.
I was in Kingston, on a Fulbright Teach/Research Award at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. I was an Artist in Residence in the Ceramics Department, doing my own work, working with the students in the department as well as students in the Sculpture Department, the Painting Department, the Fashion Department and interacting with many of the students and teachers on campus. I was attending classes and critiques in a few of the departments. I was, also, researching the emigration of Chinese women to Jamaica and the Caribbean, resulting in the series of artwork, Bound/Unbound. I was busy non stop.
Not that I am not an emotional person. I can cry easily at the movies, watching a television commercial, reading a book, witnessing pain and suffering. I have always cried easily yet have not shed any tears about this situation.
My initial reaction was why. I had never even heard of an aortic dissection, let alone Type A and Type B. Imagine my surprise and shock when I learned that I had suffered and survived both, which was highly unusual, I was part of the 10% of survivors. My cardiologist, Dr. Deepika Misra, who monitors my chest area, later told me that the dissection from chest to pelvis was "huge". Three years later, in 2015, I was told by another cardiologist, Dr. Michael Borger, who monitors my abdomen area, that I still had the dissection from chest to pelvis, that only 2" had been repaired. I was quite alarmed but Dr. Misra reassured me that I would be fine as long as my blood pressure was being regulated. My blood pressure is low, 90/50, intentionally, "to keep me from running around", as Dr. Misra stated. My natural inclination is to move quickly and to be nimble. Now, I am medically induced to be slow and steady.
Another major natural inclination is to question. Immediately after surgery, I began to ask what is an aortic dissection, why did it happen to me, how do I prevent a recurrence, because never in a million years, did I think that I would ever have a heart attack, a stroke, experience paralysis and have emergency open heart surgery. I had always been aware of my health, my diet, vigilant about annual check ups from the top to bottom of my entire body. Only a year later, in 2013, did I learn that an aortic dissection is a predisposition in my father's family when an 83 year old cousin passed away. I was told that he had an aortic dissection ten years earlier but never spoke about it and he was a doctor. It is imperative and important that one knows one's family medical history, paternal and maternal.
I continue to do my artwork, I continue to be the caregiver for my niece's 97 year old grandfather and have become a geriatric care specialist in the process, I continue to teach and share my knowledge and experience and continue to engage in positive creative energy which is the ultimate expression of life.
By doing this work, I continue to question and process this major catastrophic medical event that changed my life forever. It, also, gave me a second chance, to never take anything for granted, to be positive and present, to refuse negativity and toxicity, to be grateful that I had not suffered any residual effects, to be grateful and joyous every single day that I am breathing! I, also, hope to raise awareness about aortic dissections, about health and well-being, about being optimistic, about attitude being half the battle and the other half is showing up and about being ready, willing, able and open and the universe will answer in so many different ways. I have had no tears, only joy.
In the series, No Tears, Only Joy, I use paint, color pencils and embroidery on cotton handkerchiefs to depict various elements of my heart event. This artwork is a continuation of the series, In a Heartbeat, which I began in June, 2012, two months after my open heart surgery. This is a work in progress to be published in a book, In a Heartbeat, with my stories illustrated by my artwork.
The earlier work may be seen on my website www.jeanchiang.com.