This work, "Phlegmish Expressions" is the first of a series yet to be named. This series is dedicated to my surgeons, Dr. Gabriele Di Luozzo and Dr. Sandhya Balaram, the operating staff and the staff of the acute aortic ICU unit who worked tirelessly with care and compassion at Mount Sinai St. Luke's in NYC. Also, many, many thanks to Teddy who scheduled friends to visit with love, concern and goodies and witnessed my progress in recovery. Finally, special thanks to my beloved niece, who connected with me and the doctors and hospital staff on FaceTime daily from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The surgery was a thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm repair replacement which took place on February 5, 2020, Wednesday for 11 hours. I was awakened on February 8, Saturday and was surprised to see a dear friend, Cathy, in the room. Cathy said, "Jeannie, the surgery is over!" I could not believe her and asked, "Really, really?!" at least 6 times. I learned that I had contracted pneumonia, a paralyzed left vocal cord during surgery and had tubes attached everywhere on my body. I felt and looked like a medical marionette. It took a short time for me to accept that I had the surgery and I survived.
Dr. Di Luozzo came in, shortly after, and I thanked him again and again. He informed me that I was going to be in boot camp describing the recovery process in the next few weeks in the ICU followed by the "step down" floor then to a rehabilitation facility. Little did I know how many different boots I would be wearing as I experienced the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual changes on a daily basis. I never expected the process to be easy but the schedule was intense and relentless 24/7. My body had gone through the physical trauma of surgery and the evidence was a 14 inch curved incision on my left side from my left shoulder blade to my breast that was closed with 72 staples. Surprisingly, I felt no pain but my left arm, hand and groin were numb and tingly. I did have painful involuntary muscle spasms by my right ribs that would catch me by surprise. I would wince and gasp in pain. Thankfully, I was given pain medications immediately.
Every day, my body would change as it was being reawakened. The next day, February 9, Sunday, I was instructed to get out of bed, tubes and all, holding tightly onto a wheeled metal frame that supported me, surrounded by 3 physical therapists. I likened it to being on a mobile stage for my traveling marionette show!
We, the doctors and nurses and therapists were in this together, 24/7. My mantra was "step by step in faith and positive energy" because my goal was to recover as quickly as possible to be released to rehabilitation and then return home. I entered the hospital on February 4, Wednesday and was discharged from rehabilitation on March 20, Friday, the first day of Spring, a total of 45 days. I had not followed the news at all but had heard whispers about the COVID 19 virus during the last week in rehabilitation. I was concerned that I would be held in the lockdown per Governor Cuomo's order for NYC. It was all quite surrealistic to be released to a quarantine.
I am eternally grateful and thankful to all concerned for surviving the surgery and living to tell the story. This is a series of work in progress as I process this entire experience in this most interesting and difficult year, 2020.
Special thanks to Dan Giella, Director and Founder, Carlos Cardenas and Mei Fung at One Art Space.
This installation was exhibited in the Fourth Annual International Women's Day exhibit in March, 2020.
Photo credit: Mei Fung