Photography and Design Made Me Whole Again
How tragedy helped me find myself.
In the summer of 2003, I was between Junior and Senior year of Highschool. Things were great! We had just gotten back from a family vacation and I was celebrating a friend being in remission from Leukemia. I was getting ready to begin my senior year and was looking forward to it!
Once the party was over, a friend and I went to hang out with my high school boyfriend at the local shopping center. On the way there, I experienced one of the most life-altering events in my life. We were in a rollover accident, I wasn’t wearing my seat belt and I was partially ejected and subsequently pinned by the overturned vehicle. My friend who was the driver found herself partially behind the driver's seat but mostly okay. Once all of the sounds of metal and my head grinding along the road stopped, we found ourselves at the entrance to a neighborhood. 911 was called, people helped us as best they could and I was airlifted to the local hospital.
Just like dried Play-doh
I was alive, but I wasn’t whole. My right hand had become pinned beneath the vehicle and my middle, ring and pinky finger were lost they had been crushed, flattened really. I remember thinking that it looked like Play-doh, you know when it dries out a little and then you squish it and the sides all crack and tear? Yup, just like that. There wasn’t even blood at first. It was very surreal. I would later learn that I had also lost half of the joint in my pointer finger, just sanded right off. This has given me limited mobility in my second (PIP) joint. My face somehow was only minimally injured, some heavy scuffs and raccoon-like bruising around my eyes from my head hitting the ground and probably blood drainage from the scuffs. My right arm felt worse than my hand and would take the longest to heal and the most surgeries to correct, the whole back of my arm had been handed down by the road in too deep road rash. To this day I still have to remind myself in my sleep that it’s OK to roll over on to my right side.
I have but one claw!
Somehow at the hospital, I feel I took everything in as best a stride as I could, the first words to my boyfriend was a Ferngully quote, as I held up my swelling and mangled hand in the ER, “I have but one claw!” I was most definitely in shock.
My sarcastic side really came to light when I was dealing with the extreme pain of the debridement washes I had to do in these tubs. Screaming raw nerves and warm (read BURNING to raw nerves), moving, medicated water was indescribably the opposite of fun. Can there be more than the opposite? Like fun does a 180 then you multiply that by five.
The poor nurse that was tending to me hopefully found some humor when she asked, “Does it hurt?” while patting/rubbing drying my arm after one of these torture baths, to which I replied through tears and glowing pain “No, it fucking tickles!” only to be scolded for my language by my dad, who was on the other side of the curtain in the room.
A desk to hide under
Eventually, I went back to school, my arm still in bandages. I think it was a few weeks after school had actually started, I know I missed senior photos. My life was such a blur at that time that I lost track of a lot of things. Even though it was a blur, it was an important time in my life, where I feel as though I grew more than the average student my age. I had lost myself, my path, I was uncertain as to what my future held. I didn’t want to be reliant on others. Was my independence gone?
I credit these teachers with my being able to recover back to the semi-normal human being that I am today.
One of my teachers was a “Digital Arts” instructor, we’ll call her Ms. T, she introduced me to Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and Indesign and to the career I follow today. She offered me a spot under the spare desk in her classroom, which was not always occupied, with a pillow and a blanket for me to retreat to, whenever I felt overwhelmed. I never used that space, but knowing it was there and having it as an option gave me comfort throughout those early days. I also became her TA and if I remember correctly I taught probably ½ of the classes because I understood the programs exceptionally well! This helped build my confidence and to understand, that maybe I wasn’t whole, but I wasn’t useless or broken either.
My photography teacher, Mr. J, was also instrumental in helping me find my worth and learn to relate to people after all I had been through. I’m not sure how this came about, but one of the school counselors, Ms. H, fostered puppies and would sneak them into the school for socialization and to get adoption photos done to put on petfinder.com. I didn’t realize it until later, but I was the ONLY one who would do the puppy photoshoots. People helped out, but I would conceptualize the shoot, direct putting together the sets, I’d arrange the lighting and I’d take and edit the photos as well. Mr. J made it so I was able to discover to create in ways different than I was accustomed to on my own. He helped me learn a new art form that has been in use ever since high school.
Through Graphic Design and Photography, I was able to discover that I didn’t have to lose myself, lose art, lose creativity along with those fingers I had lost. Instead, I gained confidence, flexibility and adaptability and a variety of skills that I previously had not discovered. Skills that I still tap into to this day. I learned that I had far more toughness and resilience than I had ever given myself credit for. That I am a fighter.
Although it’d be nice to have my fingers back and to not have gone through the experience in the first place, I wouldn't trade the lessons I've learned or the person I've become because of it.
New Eyes Award
Ms. T and I still chat to this day, although probably not as much as we should.
I’ve lost touch with Mr. J, I heard he retired due to his health. I hope he’s doing okay. I’ve not had any luck contacting him, but I hope he knows what a difference he made in my life. Although I’ve also lost touch with Ms. H bringing in those puppies for art AND puppy therapy you were also instrumental in my recovery!
I still have the "new eyes" award you all presented me and the portfolio as well. I used that portfolio case to get my first two jobs!