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Posts Tagged ‘pale’

 This is a big piece for me, not just size-wise, but for what it represents as well.
Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

I shot this self portrait a week or two ago after enduring months of worse-than-usual depression.  Some was due to outside influences, bad news, being sick and other things that any normal, healthy person would feel depressed about.  But a lot of it was that irrational, heavy, demanding, life-draining depression that is clinical depression.  This is not feeling sad about things that you should feel sad about.  This is round-the-clock, punishing joylessness, sucking the beauty out of everything, leaving all around you colorless and meaningless.  This is clinical depression.

 

I’ve battled this beast since it first started manifesting in my early teens.  It took me some time before I learned that what I was feeling was an actual condition, a potentially solvable problem, not just a bad mood that hung around for years.  I’ve also tried more remedied to it that I can recount; anti-depressants, therapy, energy work, supplements, yoga, getting more exercise (before I had ME; over-doing exercise now could do me great harm), self-help books, seminars, journaling, art therapy… on and on and on.

 

And it still clings.

 

I decided to start a series specifically addressing mental illness; clinical depression and anxiety in particular, since those are the two I fight with most.  I manage them, sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse.  Sometimes I want to just die.  I don’t know if it will ever go away completely, thus the series title Eternal Storms.

 

I identify with Eeyore from Winnie  the Pooh, with his constant dark cloud covering just him.  I’m sure that was subconsciously part of the inspiration for this piece.  When I’m going through a bout of depression, this is what it feels like to me.  A dark storm raging round my head, that only I see and feel.  It makes the idea of asking for help feel pointless; even if I break up this cloud, another will come.  And the social stigma of admitting you need help at all, let alone help with your mental health, makes it all the worse.  If I’m having a week where I have to talk myself into continuing to live each day, I can’t talk about it except for a few select, very trusted friends who have also been there, as well as my therapist.

 

I shot this self portrait as a way to work through the cloud I was under, yes, but more importantly, to directly address depression and its stigma.  Admitting you have or struggle with depression doesn’t make you weak or unworthy.  It doesn’t make you a bad person.  It doesn’t mean you’re not trying hard enough, eating right or getting enough exercise.  It just IS.  And society needs to learn to stop judging those who do manage to ask for help.

 

The alternative is that we suffer in silence with our tormentor.  And that can kill.

 

Joel Robison happened to put up an insightful blog about his own battle with depression recently, which was a happy coincidence.  I’m very glad for people like him who will stand with me and admit that yes, we have depression.  It may not make sense to you, you may not understand it, it might *gasp* make you uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it will go away.We are no less human that you.  We did not ask for this fight.  This is not an attention-seeking behavior.  This is real, this illness is out for blood.  This is just our fight.  This matters.  And it can be won.One storm at a time.

This series is dedicated to all the others who fight this battle with me every day.  You are all so strong and so brave.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – click on the image to see it full-sized on my site!

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - details

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – details

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

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I have had this image in my head for about four or five years and the timing was just never quite right for it.  Thankfully, since I’ve been working with the multi-talented Travis Weinand, I had the chance to do it the way I’d been picturing it for so long!

Are you all familiar with the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989?  I’ll give you a rough summary of events.  Some of the details still remain repressed though, such as the number of people actually killed, but I’ll do my best.

In April of 1989, the death of Hu Yaobang, the former Communist Party General Secretary triggered massive protests calling for political reform.  The protests began peacefully and were led mostly by university students, who gathered in Tiananmen Square to mourn and protest.  This went on for several weeks and some of the students took to hunger strikes to express their desire for reform.  Since the entire incident has been so thoroughly repressed, it’s hard to get an inside take on what was happening in the minds of the Chinese government – you can’t very well ask about an event which never officially happened.

However, after the protests went on for weeks and showed no signs of slowing, Chinese leaders decided force was called for to disperse the protesters.  Marshall law was declared, approximately 250,000 troops were sent in; given permission to use lethal force if necessary.

And, as is so often the case, once lethal force has been approved, means for using it will be found.

By June 5th, the heavily outnumbered and out-armed protesters had been largely slaughtered.  Exact numbers remain unknown; official records report 200-300 died; earlier reports fro the Chinese Red Cross on the morning of the 4th recorded 2,600 deaths, which was later retracted.  Regardless, the students stood no chance against an armed and deadly militia with orders to make them go away, whatever it took.

And then we come to June 5th.

After weeks of unrest leading to a brutally bloody and deadly fever pitch, by the 5th, one man, at least, had had enough.  As the tanks came rolling into the square to continue to get rid of the protestors, one man made his stand in a way which still shocks and awes people today.

With nothing more than a few shopping bags in his hands, he stood in the tanks’ path and forced them to stop.  The tanks tried to maneuver around him, he stepped back in front of them.  After the massacre he had surely witnessed over the past several days, this goes beyond mere heroism.  This was fearlessness.  He was angry, and no matter that the tanks could have kept rolling and ran him over, or they could have chosen to shoot him as soon as he came into view, he stood.  And for minutes, a single man stopped an entire line of tanks.

At one point he even climbs on top of the tank, bangs on it and demands to speak to the person in charge.  After a few minutes, a group of people, who seem to be protesters also, join him and hustle him out of the way, probably fearing, with good reason, for his life.

No one knows who this man is.  The world has called him Tank Man, a fitting name.  We don’t know what happened to him.  Was he arrested, was he killed, or did he simply never know the incredible impact his act of sheer bravery had on the world?  With the extend to which the massacre has been suppressed in China, it’s quite possible he never knew his act was recorded or that it became famous.  I would love to know what happened to him, but so far no one has come forward claiming to be Tank Man or knowing who he is.

One man against a line of tanks.  He knew the events of the days before and how deadly the protests had become.  He knew that he would likely be shot or run over.

But his one act of peaceful, quiet defiance stopped an army.

That is what I wanted to celebrate in my image with Travis.  I wrapped a mantle of white flowers around his shoulders, both to symbolize purity and peace, which we typically associate them with in America, and also for its association with death in the Chinese culture.  I instructed Travis to be quietly, peacefully strong, but unshakeable, and rolled up a piece of craft foam into a tube to shoot the image through, as if you were looking down the barrel of the tank at him.  I climbed a ladder to get a view where I’d be higher up than Travis (not as easy as you’d think since he’s so tall and I’m so short!) and shot away.  Travis perfectly embodied the exact emotion and look that I’d asked for.  It doesn’t get better than that.

I hope that Tank Man is alive and well.  I hope that he knows the impact his defiance had on the world.  I hope we discover some day who he is.  Until then, he will be Tank Man, the many who stopped an army.

Tank Man © Sarah Allegra

Tank Man © Sarah Allegra

Tank Man © Sarah Allegra - detail

Tank Man © Sarah Allegra – detail

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As so often happens with DreamWorld, the inspiration for this set of images came close to a year ago.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother series © Sarah Allegra, model: Dedeker Winston

Last summer, I had recently watched some of the BBC’s episodes of Life, their truly excellent series on all kinds of wildlife.  I was watching it while I edited other images (I rarely watch TV without doing a second activity, unless we’re talking about shows like True Detective, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Rectify, etc, which all demand my full attention) but my editing suddenly halted when this segment came on.

I remember backing it up and watching the whole piece again, mesmerized, deeply touched and saddened by such complete, beautiful devotion from any creature to another.  As I watched it a third time, I knew a photo was going to come out of it somehow… it was resonating too deeply with me for anything else to happen.

Now, as to how the medieval elements worked themselves in… I can only give you guesses since I’m not really sure how my brain made the jump myself.  I know that part of it had to do with wanting to give her eight “tentacles” of some kind (which made its way into her hair) and wanting to give her a pouch to carry her eggs in.  For some reason, I thought of a kirtle, a medieval garment which lasted for several centuries.  The kind I was picturing were from, I believe, earlier on in the medieval period and looked more like what we might think of as over-dresses or fancy aprons.

A kirtle from a modern pattern by Burda.

A red kirtle from a modern pattern by Burda.

Researching medieval garments inevitably led to medieval hair… images like these set my brain whirling.

You can see how the braided and wrapped hair, along with beautiful headdresses leaked into my character.

As usual, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this when I started into it.

I had a longish, dark brown wig which I’d bought very cheaply quite a while ago.  When it arrived, I realized why it had been so cheap; it was already snarled and tangled before I’d even taken it out of the package.  I halfheartedly attempted to work the same wide-tooth comb I use for my own often snarled and tangly hair and quickly realized it was a futile endeavor.  I tossed the wig into the back of the closet and mostly forgot about it.

When this project came up, I remembered it though.  Even though it poofed up like a drying poodle as I combed it, that would work in this case, since I’d be wrapping it up and looping it around.  I spent most of one afternoon just combing it out – not detangling it, mind you; there was never any hope of this wig being tangle-free.  My best hope was to get it to the point where I could separate it into eight segments.  It took all the strength in my arms and they were very unhappy with me for the next few days, but I managed to do it.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

In the meantime, I had discovered arm knitting, which I found I could do without a) using much brain power, b) quickly c) without using much muscle power and d) it had very pretty and interesting results.  The resulting squares and shapes I made from the looping yarn had such a beautiful, organic look, almost like a coral reef or some other under-sea plant/creature, that it felt completely at home with an aquatic-inspired creature.

After the combing session, I put the wig away for a day or two.  I brought it out again after my arms had regained a little strength.  Of course this also meant that it had had a couple days left completely on its own without any outside help to start tangling again, so I spent a little time re-combing it to get it back to a manageable state.  I quickly arm-knit a band of yarn which would form the circlet of my headdress and made sure it would fit.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Then I divided it into eight more-or-less equal segments and put a hair band around each one to help keep them from getting into too much trouble.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

I put the circlet of yarn back on top of the hair and began crisscrossing the yarn (which was a beautiful, slightly metallic variegated blend of soft pinks, blues,  lavenders and silvers) over the different segments, using liberal help from my glue gun to keep everything in check.  Each segment was attached back up to the main part of the circlet after its crisscrossing was done.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The two front, face-framing sections of hair were left for last.  I added some looping pieces of yarn between the other segments to make it more headdress-like.  The front segments got crisscrossed with their own lengths of yarn and were then attached to the very back of the circlet, forming two large loops on either side of the face, with hair tentacles hanging underneath them.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Then was the fun part: beads!  I raided my bead stash, with an eye toward pieces from a very elaborate headdress I’d made which had recently died, spilling beads all over the floor.  I knew there were some really cool pieces which I’d used for it, so I repurposed them again in this piece.  I didn’t want it to be overwhelmingly be-jeweled and sparkly, just enough bling to make the character look a bit important; perhaps some kind of royalty.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Moving on to her dress, I had a high-necked, sleeveless, pink chiffon dress from Ebay which I’d gotten for little more than a song.  Pink isn’t a color I’m usually drawn to that much, but since the original octopus was pink, my character was going to be pink too.  I kind of eyeballed the general shape of a kirtle from ivory tulle; a lot was going to happen to it and since it was so light and transparent, it didn’t need to be perfectly symmetrical.

I free-styled a yoke for the kirtle with more arm knitting and added some cap sleeves (which are only visible in some of the images unfortunately).  One thing I was finding with the arm knitting was that is is EXTREMELY forgiving.  Arm you within an atom bomb’s range of what you were going for?  Then it will probably work!

To unify the costume and also enhance the organic, oceanic feel, I arm knitted a piece for the bottom of the kirtle, basically a large triangle, and two smaller, upside-down triangles for either side of the egg pouch.  I left several yarn strings loose from the pouch triangles which would be used to tie the kirtle behind the back of the dress, just like a regular apron.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The eggs were leftover from a shoot I did with Paul Telfer as the Sleeper’s Sentinel.  I’d had to buy a dozen of the super-large plastic eggs so I had PLENTY to use for other shoots!  I kept these fairly simple since there would be a lot going on visually in the images; I started with spray-painting a base coat of a semi-metallic light gold color and added flecks of bronze-black to make them look more like real eggs.  Repeat until they look right.  I knew I’d only need five or six eggs, since that was as many as would fit in the pouch I’d made so I didn’t waste any time painting extra eggs.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

I did do one thing to just one egg though…  I found a nail and a hammer and while the egg was still in two pieces, I hammered a hole through from the inside out.  Some sharp knives, pliers and more hammering later, I’d created what looked like a fracture in the egg from a chick inside starting to hatch.  Eggs = done!

I’d had my faithful model Dedeker Winston in mind for this character the whole time.  I usually cast characters in the same way I create them, just by what “feels right.”  I had not consciously remembered it, but it turned out there was a really wonderful real-world reason to have Dedeker play the octopus-mother caring for her eggs.  Dedeker has been an egg donor many times to couples who are unable to have children on their own.  In fact, one family has two children, both from Dedeker’s eggs, and they just requested a third!  It’s very unusual for a family to have so many children from the same donor, but I think it’s really lovely that all of their children will be linked in this extra way.  And clearly Dedeker produces really fantastic babies!  🙂  Once I remembered that, it felt truly serendipitous that we were shooting this character together.

I knew that my wig was several shades darker than Dedeker’s hair and I had a couple thoughts on how to deal with it.  I knew she had a dark brown wig of her own which we could layer under mine, or we could totally cover all of her hair with a wig cap.  In the end though, she simply twirled her hair into a low bun, I set the wig on top of her head and since there was so much going on with the hair, it looked completely natural and blended right in.  If you looked closely, you could see that some of the hairs on her forehead were a bit lighter than the rest of her head, but I matched them up in about 30 seconds in Photoshop.  Sometimes the simplest method is the best!

We set out on a morning last summer to capture these shots of the character I’ve dubbed the Pink Mother.  We got started early and the sun was already blazing; it promised to be a miserably hot day but at the moment it was still pleasant.  I started shooting Dedeker in a dryer, dustier, yellower scene and led her along a path which gradually got greener and lusher, mirroring the octopus’ journey to find the perfect environment for her eggs to be born into.  The color pallet moved from warm and vivid to cool and less saturated, especially in regards to the Pink Mother herself.  As she nears death, the paler she becomes until the last shot, where she is very white.

She sacrificed everything she had for her eggs.  She loved them, cared for them, caressed them.  She journeyed over countless miles to find a safe, green place for them to be born.  Though it cost her everything, she never hesitated.  And, it seems, her journey was worth it.  The cracks in the eggs prove her right.  They were brought forth from the deepest love there is, and that can only be the best start to these new beings.

So thank you to Dedeker for being my medieval octopus mother and letting me share your story about your own eggs!  And thank you for trusting my vision even if it seemed questionable at the time 😉  You were the perfect, purest-loving mother to those babies!

And now enjoy the full images, some detail shots and behind-the-scenes captures!

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra - detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra – detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra - detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra - detail

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra – detail

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra - detail

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

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But not of beer.  Beer would have been so much better.

Well.  I’ve been meaning to tell you guys for FOREVER about the adventure I had surrounding my sinus surgery.  It’s a little bit long of a story; I will try and keep it brief but there was just a lot that happened, so I can’t promise anything.

From mid-July through the end of October, I was getting colds, repeatedly.  I’d get a cold, get over it, have about 2-3 weeks of more or less “normal” (for me) time, then get another cold.  One of these colds lasted for 3 weeks, 1 turned into strep throat and another turned into an ear infection so exquisitely painful that I gave serious thought to gouging the ear out of my head.  After a string of doctor visits, I was eventually sent to an ENT; an ear/nose/throat specialist.  I loved him right away.

He immediately agreed that this was abnormal, took a glance inside my nostrils and since there was nothing obviously wrong inside sent me off for some allergy blood tests and a CT scan of my sinuses.  The office was shockingly quick at getting this all set up; I’ve come to learn they are an extremely efficient and well-oiled, patient-loving machine.

The allergy tests showed a mild allergy to Timothy grass and mold, neither of which surprised me and both were too mild to be to blame for my illnesses.  The CT scan however showed inflammation and serious congestion in my sinuses, particularly on the right side and more toward the back of my skull.  I hadn’t ever really given a lot of thought to just HOW MANY sinus cavities you have in your body, but it’s rather a lot, as this image shows:

My ENT recommended a surgery where he would go in and clean all the cavities out (while I slept deep in anesthesia) because it clearly wasn’t going away on its own.  If I did nothing, the cycle of colds every 2-3 weeks would just continue, which was obviously not a livable option.  And it also happens that my doctor is not only an ENT specialist, but that he specializes in this exact type of surgery!  And Geoff has had this exact surgery twice!  I felt I was in very good hands with both of them taking care of me, so I agreed to have the surgery done.

Before

Before

November 4th Geoff woke up very early and drove me to the surgery center.  While I’ve had my nerve-blocking injections countless times, this was the first true, actual surgery I was going to have.  They knock me out for a short time for the injections, but it’s just a sedation, not actual anesthesia.  I was a little nervous, but mostly just excited to have the stupid sickness cycle stop.  I woke up with a sore throat; they’d had a little trouble intubating me (I’m guessing because I’m so small) and a little nauseated, but they gave me some nice drugs which cleared the nausea right away.  My ENT had taken a swab of the gunk in my sinuses and sent it to the lab to do a culture on it and see if it was anything that needed further treatment.  So other than a slightly sore throat, it was all very routine.

After - very sleepy looking

After – very sleepy looking.  Get used to the “mustache bandage” look.  I don’t know why my gown looks like it’s going to fall off at any moment.

The next couple days are a bit of a pain-filled blur in my mind.  Thankfully, Geoff stayed home with me to get me through the worst of it.  Of course, ALL my sinuses were inflamed and unhappy and my throat was really starting to hurt.  I’d expected to feel like I had a bad cold afterward but this was a whole new level of sinus and throat pain which I’d never experienced.  Geoff was able to call my doctor and explain my incredibly sore throat (talking was not going to happen from me) and he immediately prescribed the most beautiful, soothing numbing gel to gargle with.  It was a little messy, and about the consistency of pudding which made it hard to actually gargle, but oh my GOD did it work.  It turned me from the strep-throat severity of pain where breathing feels like inhaling shattered glass into something mildly uncomfortable when it wore off.  More points for my doctor!

Over the weekend, I started feeling better and better and by Monday, 6 days after my surgery, I decided I could run a short errand to my nearby craft store, since I had a really spectacular coupon which was about to expire.  As I reached for my purse (in a position I’d been in multiple times since the surgery) I felt something warm and wet in my nose.  I grabbed a paper towel, not thinking much of it until I saw I’d dripped blood onto the kitchen floor.  And then it REALLY started pouring.

I managed to grab a large wad of paper towels and run into the bathroom.  I have never bled like this in my life.  It was like all the veins in my sinuses just gave up and let loose.  It seemed to be coming mostly from the right side of my nose and very far back; if I tipped my head up or even held it level, blood waterfalled down my throat.  In a mild panic and not knowing what else to do, since I didn’t want to be swallowing all that blood, I held the paper towels to my face, leaned forward and let it drip into the bathroom sink.  And fortunately, I had my cell phone in my pocket, so I called Geoff, who had just gotten to work.  I was stuck in the “fright” of the “fright or flight” response and couldn’t think of anything else to do.

We discussed if I needed an ambulance and I just didn’t know; I did notice that after the initial panic, as I tried to slow my breathing and calm myself, the bleeding slowed a little, which gave me some hope.  Geoff called the ENT’s office and came right home, but we both knew it would be about 45 minutes before he got there.  So Geoff called John, one of my wonderful neighbors, hoping he was home.  John wasn’t home but he was close by.  He dropped everything and came rushing home to check on me until Geoff got there.  I later found out that John had been about to get his car washed and was about to send his car through the machine where the initial cleaning is done and there were people lined up behind him.  The car wash people told him it wouldn’t take long to go through the machine and then he could just leave, but John made everyone move their cars so that he could leave right that instant.  That’s the kind of people my neighbors are.  They more than have my back.

Sleight Of Hand © Sarah Allegra, featuring my neighbor John

Sleight Of Hand © Sarah Allegra, featuring my neighbor John, who will make every single damn car get moved if he needs to check on me quickly

John got home and at that point the bleeding had mostly stopped so we agreed an ambulance wasn’t needed but he sat on the bathroom floor with me and told me stories to calm and distract me until Geoff got home.  He was an angel.  (And just to be clear, my other neighbor, his wife Donna, would have been equally adept in his role.  John happened to be closest to home so he took up the task, but Donna certainly would have done the same if she’d been around.  After all, she helped me take care of the opossum littler I found!)

After I’d calmed down and the bleeding leveled off, I took a few photos of the sink to record it.  The photos look dramatic, but every person who actually saw the copious blood agrees they don’t do it justice at all; both Geoff and John said it looked like a bad Halloween party decoration.  But to give you an idea, here’s one of my cell phone captures.

It looks like a fair bit of blood, but trust me, it was much, MUCH worse in person

This photo actually came from Geoff’s camera, not mine.  His takes much better photos than mine does.  It looks like a fair bit of blood, but trust me, it was much, MUCH worse in person.  Geoff was also a saint for cleaning up the whole bathroom by himself, which I felt bad about, but I was under strict orders to REST and lay down.

So Geoff and I went back to see my ENT.  He took a look around, determined that yes, I was bleeding rather a lot and decided to pack my nose.  Apparently, he’d used a gel-like packing while I was out for the actual surgery; it was similar in texture to Jello.  I couldn’t even tell that there was anything in my nose, it was so mild and comfortable.  The new packing however was NOT pillowy and Jello-like.  I can only describe it like having an entire tampon made of broken glass and cacti bits shoved up one nostril.  And that’s after they sprayed a numbing spray inside my nose.  My eye watered and watered on that side of my face but I did not cry.

The packing was so incredibly uncomfortable that I couldn’t even talk or all the glass shards and cacti quills jabbed at me from inside my nose.  I was to keep it in for two days to really stop the bleeding, then I could have it out.  I wasn’t exactly happy, but I was glad to have the bleeding stopped.

Bandaged up with packing up my nose, taped to my cheek

Bandaged up with packing up my nose, taped to my cheek

The rest of the day, I communicated with Geoff through gestures, grunts and writing things down.  At one point I laughed quietly to myself and wrote “this is like The Leftovers,” on my pad of paper and showed it to him.  I was not in the least bit comfortable, but I didn’t worry I was dying imminently anymore and I knew that I could get through two days of pain, high though it was.  My doctor made sure that I was well stocked on painkillers before I left, because that’s the considerate kind of guy he is 🙂

The next morning I woke up and realized I was swallowing… and again… and again… and then I jolted upright and rushed to the bathroom because the bleeding had begun again.  Since I was sleeping on my back, slightly elevated (like I was supposed to) and the bleeding was coming from so far back, all the blood was just pouring down my throat like a thick, gross waterfall.  I had no idea how long I’d been swallowing my own blood, but I was again alarmed that I was bleeding so much, even after the packing was in.  It was coming from so far back, it was even behind the packing; it was like it wanted to run down the right side of my nose, but since that was now packed, it was overflowing down the left side and down my throat.

This time when Geoff called the ENT’s office, they told us to just come in right then, so I did, pale, woozy, feeling awful, still in my PJs, since I didn’t dare take the time to get dressed, nor make any movements which might cause my nose to bleed more.  I sat in their lobby for a few minutes, while the bleeding had blessedly stopped momentarily, with a huge ball of paper towels clutched to my face and a plastic grocery bag in my other hand in case I started dripping.  I laid my head against Geoff’s shoulder, closed my eyes and tried to forgot the lobby full of people who were staring at me in alarm.

The nurses were trying to clear a room for me when I suddenly felt the surge start back up for no reason.  Geoff alerted the nurses.  One of them brought me a kidney bowl to hold under my chin for dripping, then they were able to usher me off into a room away from the frightened eyes of the other clients.

kidney bowl small

A kidney bowl just like this!  The curved shape makes for good under-face catching.

My ENT was in the middle of surgeries of his own, so I saw one of the other doctors, who was just as lovely and kind as everyone else had been.  All the available nurses hovered around, trying to find anything to do to make me more comfortable; one wet paper towels and dabbed my forehead, another brought me some ice water to sip between procedures from the doctor.  There was one nurse in particular who stayed right by my side the entire time, no matter how gross it got.  She would frequently hold my hand or pat my knee during difficult parts and she was completely sincere about it; she wanted me to feel better and was doing any little thing she could think of.  As truly, completely awful as I felt and as unpleasant of an experience as it all was, whenever I remember that nurse, I feel a surge of the warm love she radiated.

This doctor decided to remove the packing, since all it was doing was obstructing the view of where the blood was coming from, so he pulled it out… and my god, I don’t know  which was worse, going in or coming out.  Either way, it’s not something you want inside your nose.  Removing it started a fresh flow, much of which was freely flowing down my face into the bowl under my chin.

The doctor kept needing me to tip my head back so he could see what was happening inside, which meant the blood kept going down my throat and getting swallowed.  At one point I started to feel very nauseated (more so than I had all morning).  I murmured to Geoff that I thought I might throw up and then a moment later, I was barfing up blood into my kidney bowl.  Geoff held this bowl for me under my chin as I filled it, he and the nurse did some sort of quick shuffle with bowls and I filled a second one.  If you’re ever given the choice to throw up blood or not, I would strongly recommend you choose to NOT do it.  That was probably the grossest thing that’s ever happened to me, and the whole time, Geoff and my nurse stood right by me, holding bowls (she did have gloves, but it still had to be pretty unpleasant), smiling and patting encouragements and holding my increasingly icky hands.  They are saints.

Shortly after that, the doctor was able to temporarily stop the gushing and I heard him and Geoff discussing that I would need an emergency surgery that day so they could go in and stop the bleeding for real.  I was going to be transferred to a hospital where I’d wait for my ENT to finish his current surgeries, then he’d meet me at the hospital and work on me.  They were weighing the options on either Geoff driving me over or having an ambulance come and take me when I asked if I could get up and wash my hands at the sink in the room, since they’d gotten spattered with blood and whatnot.  I made it to the sink, slowly, and I washed my hands, carefully, and then…  I’ve fainted before, I recognized the rushing deafness and darkness and knew I was about to go out so I hurried to plant my back against the cabinets and tried to slide down to the floor before I lost consciousness, thinking I’d have a shorter fall from there.  Looking back, I can see it would have been better to just say, “Hey Geoff, I’m passing out,” but of course you’re not thinking very clearly at the moment.  Luckily he saw what was happening so he leaped across the small room, nimbly avoiding expensive machines and he grabbed me before I hit the floor.  From his quick action, I never quite lost consciousness, but I was pretty well a rag doll for a few minutes.

At that point, the doctor wisely decided I should travel to the hospital by ambulance.

That was a first for me; an ambulance ride.  The medics were all very nice and clearly knew what they were doing; they got me on a saline IV before we even made it to the hospital, which was only a couple miles away.  I did decide that I didn’t like laying down and facing backwards in a moving car though, it would have made me carsick if the ride lasted much longer.  Although I don’t think that I would have had anything else to try and throw up.

The hospital got me situated in a room pretty quickly, a nice one by hospital standards; it was private, I had my own bed, bathroom and TV and there was a curtain we could draw over the glass doors.  Since at that point I was stable, we just had to wait a while for my doctor to finish his other surgeries and come over to the hospital.  So for a while, everything was surreal and strangely calm.  We watched some TV.  I saw my first episode ever of Seinfeld.  The staff came, drew blood, determined I did not need a blood transfusion, and switched out my now-empty saline bag for another one.

In my bed at the hospital, still being a trooper

In my bed at the hospital, still being a trooper.  If you look carefully you can see how pale my lips are compared to the rest of my face.

It was fairly late in the day when my ENT was able to get over to me, but he seemed as fresh and alert as if I’d been his first patient of the day.  He brought an assistant with him and they used one of the hospital’s anesthesiologists.  We spoke to the anesthesiologists for a little while before they took me into the surgery room and Geoff mentioned that they’d had trouble intubating me for the first surgery.  The anesthesiologists looked at me assessingly and said, “I don’t think I’ll have trouble,” which he did not.

For me, then it was being wheeled into different rooms and getting various IV injections; the first one made you really, really relaxed and the second made you sleep.  As a chronic insomniac, I wouldn’t mind that every night 🙂  As I was told later, once I was under, my doctor looked inside my nose and determined that one artery at the very back of my sinuses, where the two sides join together had simply burst for no good reason, and that was what was causing all the bleeding.  He cauterized the offending artery along with a few of its friends for good measure, filled up my right side thoroughly with the Jello packing and let me wake up.  I spent a little longer in the hospital, in a different room with Geoff.  The anesthesia had again made me a little queasy, but the nurse gave me an injection which made that stop.

Groggy and pale after the emergency surgery, but I could muster the will for a thumbs-up, goddammit

Groggy and pale after the emergency surgery, but I could muster the will for a thumbs-up, goddammit

And then we finally went home, more than 12 hours since we’d left it.  Thankfully, our neighbors had come and let Calantha outside much earlier in the day and also fed her dinner.  She and the cats were happy to see me and concerned about all the medical smells on me.  I think I stumbled around for a little bit, while Geoff feed the cats, I found PJs to wear which hadn’t just been in a hospital, all the while Geoff kept telling me to lay down; I don’t actually remember very much of this part.  But I think I fell asleep fairly quickly.  As soon as I woke up the next morning, I checked myself anxiously; did I taste blood?  Was everything ok?  And for the first time in several days, I was ok.

Geoff stayed with me for a couple of days which ended up being really needed.  I was extremely weak (and extraordinarily pale, everyone kept telling me, even considering my baseline paleness) and almost any movement made me very, very dizzy and light-headed.  Geoff made me lay down as much as he could, but I’d have to get up periodically to use the bathroom, or for some other task he couldn’t do for me.  It was a procedure though.  First, sit up in bed instead of laying down, propped up on a pile of pillows.  Let the dizziness pass.  Swing legs over side of bed and wait.  Let the dizziness pass.  Slowly stand and immediately put your hand (and probably face) on the wall while you ride out the biggest wave of dizziness.  Once you’re a little more settled, you can probably walk the 10 feet to the bathroom.  Geoff hovered anxiously every time I got up just in case I started to go down again.

I went back to see my ENT two days later and my GOODNESS, did EVERY person in that office remember exactly who I was.  I made quite the impression on them.  (Even now, as soon as I walk in, there’s a chorus of greetings from the whole staff.)  Everyone was happy that the surgery had worked and I wasn’t bleeding at all any more.  So why did the artery burst in the first place?  No one has any idea.  It’s just a mystery.  My doctor talked about how every now and then, you’ll have a patient who bleeds later on the day of the surgery, or maybe the day after, but 6 days later is unheard of.  There I go again, baffling doctors with my weird body.  I felt so, so much better compared to how I’d felt at the beginning of the week, I didn’t even really care how weak I was, I was just glad to be not bleeding, not at a medical facility, at home and not nauseated.

One of the first days I was able to stand for long on my own.  But look, I'm not at the doctor's!  I'm not at the hospital!  I'm wearing 18 layers because I have no blood, yes, but I'm home and on the mend!

One of the first days I was able to stand for long on my own. But look, I’m not at the doctor’s! I’m not at the hospital! I’m wearing 18 layers because I have no blood, yes, but I’m home and on the mend!

My doctor tells me I lost 2-3 pints of blood between the 2 days of bleeding, which is significant, especially for someone as small as I am.  And frankly, I’m still feeling the effects of it.  I learned that it takes 120 days for a blood cell to replace itself, so even though I’m taking iron supplements to help my body along, it’ll be the middle of February before all my blood is replaced.  It’s getting better, but there was a while where I could hardly do anything that involved walking for more than a few feet without getting dizzy and winded and having to sit down.  Even now, I still have to be careful.  For some reason it there’s any kind of incline I’m walking up, even a very gently sloping one, I feel like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a hill.  I still have to take a break halfway through walking the one flight of stairs at my therapist’s office, and another breather when I get to the top.  It is getting better though, noticeably so, and my doctor assures me this is normal for the amount of blood I lost.

I also found out that the culture they’d sent in of the goo inside my sinuses had turned out to be harboring a staph infection, which the antibiotics I was on as a natural result of the surgery should get rid of also.  I ended up needing to go two rounds with the antibiotics to really clear it up but it seems to be gone now.  And I have not had a single cold since I had my surgery, which goes to prove that really was the cause of all my summer sicknesses.

Overall, this was definitely not a fun experience but there were some good things that came out of it.  I know what a caring and attentive ENT I have now, along with the entire staff.  I practiced really resting and allowing others to do things for me when I needed them to, which is hard for me to do.  I’d much rather just do it on my own even if it makes me pass out than bother anyone else.  I watched Winter’s Tale and had a lovely afternoon with my mom, who came to stay with me one of the days Geoff had to be at work.  I felt loved and cared for.  And then, of course, there’s this… my mom brought this “to cheer me up” because of who was on the cover:

Matthew McC small

Thanks, mom 🙂  And big thanks my neighbors, my ENT and all of his staff, the ambulance workers and everyone at the hospital, if any of them are reading this somehow.  My friends and family were very diligent about checking in with how I was feeling by text, which was perfect as that was about all the communicating I could do.

And of course big, HUGE thanks to Geoff for taking such excellent care of me!  He always does, but I always appreciate it!

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One of the unexpected perks of being a photographer who often shoots in natural settings is that I have been able to witness some examples of incredible beauty and wonder that I never would have seen if I wasn’t out in it so frequently.  One example of this is the sudden winter that fell over a nearby forest in the middle of summer.  The forest is rich with a certain kind of tree which apparently reproduces in much the same way a dandelions does; growing a downy, fluffy seed which the wind carries far and wide.  I have searched and searched, but I still have no idea what the name of the tree is; if you know, please tell me!  Regardless, the result of the trees was that huge sections of the forest was covered in a magical “snow.”  I couldn’t have asked for a setting more perfect for DreamWorld.

Naturally, I leaped into photographic action.

The first photo of the series featured Dedeker amidst the snow trees.  She carried such a feeling of wonder and awe, much the same as I had felt the first time I saw the snowy landscape.

All Of Winter In A Day

All Of Winter In A Day

All Of Winter In A Day - detail

All Of Winter In A Day – detail

All Of Winter In A Day - detail

All Of Winter In A Day – detail

All Of Winter In A Day - detail

All Of Winter In A Day – detail

The second photo I created was with Katie.  I decided there should be someone who ruled this forever-winter corner of DreamWorld, a benevolent being who would keep things always winter, but it would be a spring-like winter full of life and growth.  I’m sure a lot of my fascination with this idea has to do with the brutal Los Angeles summer we all go through every year, and the fact that heat makes all of my symptoms much worse.  I dread summer every year, and I long for a place where summer could never reach, so the Snow Saint was created.  I wanted her to have a semi-religious quality, something that hinted at a spirituality as well as power over nature.  Katie easily embodied all of these elements at once.  The Snow Saint looks like a queen, like someone to be revered, but also someone you could approach and who would hear your supplications.

Where Summer Dares Not Tread

Where Summer Dares Not Tread - detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread – detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread - detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread – detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread - detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread – detail

And yes, on both occasions my models and I were shaking “snow” off our clothes and out of our hair for hours, but it was well worth it 🙂

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