All my life I had heard, in song and story, about the delights of the southern United States, in particular New Orleans. With a little organizing and some luck I could be there by Mardis Gras.
Fortunately, a friend I had known since childhood also entertained these ideas and before long we were making preparations for what would be yet the furthest and most comprehensive trip I'd planned. We even put passports in order so that if given the chance we'd be able to exit the country in search of truly exotic locales.
The bacchanal was in mid February in 1975 and towards the end of January we still had not all our provisions together and the weather was downright awful.
We were beginning to have second thoughts but we were resolved to go. I contracted a serious cold just before we left, sticking our thumbs out on the southbound interstate.
I couldn' t remember having such terrible luck in catching rides and by the time we arrived in northern California we were fed up with the cold, rain and uncooperative traffic and flagged down a Greyhound bus to transport us into San Francisco.
On the bus we made the acquaintance of a gentleman from England who was touring the country on his own.
In a run down hotel in a seedy section of that city by the bay we decided to pool our funds and rent a car to Los Angeles where we had friends to stay with. At that time would we decide the best way to complete the last leg of our journey.Time was getting short now and it was finally determined that if we were going to arrive in time for any of the celebrations we would have to drive straight through. After looking into a drive away car unsuccessfully we rented a light blue Pinto station wagon. We unhooked the speedometer so the miles would not register and we would be spared the heavy mileage charges and pushed off toward Dixie.
Two days later, taking turns driving through states I wished I could have lingered long in, we entered Louisiana. It was Fat Tuesday and our spirits soared as we realized by nightfall we would probably be drunk on Bourbon Street. I wanted a costume and truly get into the feeling of the event but already was I masked by my relative innocence. Darkness was nearly suspended by all the lights and glitter surrounding us as we entered the heart of the crescent city, music issuing forth from nearly every door and the biggest smiles I'd ever seen on people who obviously didn't care a bit how foolish they looked.
Whatever inhibitions I might have had were completely disregarded and I reveled with absolute abandon. Dancing with women and men alike, a stiff drink in my hand, and singing to my hearts content, I had absolutely no idea where we were going to spend the night.
As luck would have it, two friends from Seattle who were supposed to be in Hawaii were spied tapping their feet in a doorway and after hellos all around we were invited to share their rented room for the night. The next evening we listened to a terrific concert / symposium at L.S.U/U.N.O. featuring Cannonball Adderley.
Our first couple nights were spent with an old high school friend who lived on the St. Charles streetcar line. He shared the place with Suzie Q the kinkajou, an amazing little nocturnal creature alive with curious inquizity. We were anxious to secure our own pad and landed a run down duplex nearby bordering the river.
There were no furnishings but with the help of some neighborhood kids we rounded up some essentials. A green vinyl couch was pulled from the river and dried out for a few days before being cleaned up and brought inside. An old gas stove was recovered from some weeds, hooked up and worked perfectly. We were still without a fridge but easily got by on dried food and fresh fruit as well as the surrounding cafes.
We next pooled our funds and aquired a second hand cedar chest to keep the roaches out of our clothes and a clock radio to groove to the best radio stations I'd ever heard.
While putting a few things away in the place's only closet, I discovered a small framed devotional image of Jesus holding His Sacred Heart. The picture was the same as the one that appeared on the banner in the St. Margaret's sacristy many years before. Upon the devotional was stated; Whatsoever is prayed for in My name shall be granted. I chose a suitable place for the relic and went about my affairs.
I was anxious to begin producing my art and set up an area for work. My first large piece, done in poster paint on a cardboard sheet depicted Rex, King of carnival in all his regalia. I set it one of the windows to drown out traffic noise.
Next I constructed a huge kite from bamboo poles and taped newspaper sheets. The design was my own and not too airworthy until I attached a long tail. I painted an enormous tree in full bloom and soon it was soaring high above the river.
The architecture inspired my creativity and I tried my hand at rendering a few noteable examples. A highly detailed picture of our house was done along with others and I was happily surprised to notice an improvement in my style.
My first visit to the New Orleans Art Museum proved to be highly stimulating and a curious discovery there confirmed my destiny.
The museum itself, located in scenic City Park, boasts an extraordinary collection of first rate paintings including Degas (who once lived in the city) Gauguin and Max Ernst to name a few. I was particularly struck by the Southern regional painters whose generally somber depictions of swamp scenes and rural life were imbued with a deep sense of mystery.
I was drawn to one large painting of a flooded cypress forest. It was fairly dark with Spanish Moss draping the branches and issued an eerie calm feeling. Upon reading the label I was astonished to discover the piece was created by one Bror Wikstrom. I searched for information on the artist but could not confirm a family connection. Later I noticed our family name carved into the cornice surrounding the museum.
My meager art supplies were dwindling and I was forced to work with materials at hand. I began drawing abstractions over newspaper photographs then came across a roll of heavy blue construction paper. This blue period produced a few still lifes that sharpened my draughtmanship and some continuous line work that I later developed into more finished pieces.
I also began experimenting with transfer techniques. First painting on a sheet of glass then drawing an image with my fingers before laying a sheet of paper across that before the paint had a chance to dry.
Spontaneous by neccesity produced work that excited me but I searched for a method that allowed more flexability. It came to me that I could take a piece of aluminum foil and with care, inscribe an image upon it, then fill those lines with ink before transfering it on to paper. Of the 20 or so that were produced a small handful pleased me.
The continuous line drawings developed more and more but I also had the opportunity to create a splendid wall mural at my friend's apartment. He had long wanted a portrait of his pet kinkajou in his living room, even priming a teardrop shaped space over the couch. In exchange for buying me a few tubes of acrylic paint, I agreed to render an interpretation. The only liberty I allowed myself was to lengthen the creature's tail to conform with my new design theories.
If I was to land a sign painting job, I felt I needed to polish those skills and set about creating a small portfolio that demonstrated my abilities. This took some time so when offered a city job with the Parks Dept. I accepted.
My duties included picking up trash along parking strips and mowing those areas, some raking and weeding and generally trying to look busy while doing as little as possible. My other crew members were all on work release from Angola Prison and would spin incredible tales while we would sit out a rainstorm or lounged during lunch.
My sign job finally came through after taking my samples all over town. Industrial Electric was one of the largest firms in town and had fired their entire workforce in order to change to a non-union operation. Angry glares confronted me on my first day of work as I passed by some protesting ex-workers. Threats were issued through the fence as I was given a tour of the plant and I began to have serious second thoughts about accepting a position.
I was led to believe that the opening in the art department was mine but that I first was needed in the pattern room. I would transfer designs onto large sheets of asbestos so that the neon glass tubes could be bent to precise specifications in order to fit the electric connections in the framed display.
Many of the former employees began accepting the new terms and returned to their respective positions. I was pleased that no recriminations were presented and managed to make a few new friends among the crew. One fellow who lived nearby me had an extra refrigerator that he let us have and the main secretary gave us a number of pots and pans to establish our kitchen.
I enjoyed living uptown. Tulane and Loyola Universities were close by and I attended many free lectures and performances. The club scene was hopping if you knew where to go.
The Maple Leaf Bar became my immediate favorite since it featured live music every night ranging from dixieland jazz to zydeco and had a charming patio where I could sip my Dixie beer and flirt with the ladies. Across the street was Jed's, a more hard core club that catered exclusively to the college crowd. The stage was larger than the Maple Leaf's and bigger bands entertained on weekends. I had heard the Meters back home, especially the Cabbage Alley album and was pleasantly surprised that they were regular performers at Jed's. Every chance I got, I'd attend their shows and get down to their special blend of funk.
After acquiring a second hand bicycle, I began to explore my surroundings in earnest. Coming from hilly Seattle, it was a delight to pedal the flat terrain and I was amazed at how far I could travel in no time at all. I would ascend to the top of the levee and bike into the countryside among the cypresses, egrets and alligators. I came to understand the enthusiasm of native son John James Audubon, whose paintings of birds captured a dynamism seldom witnessed by a city boy like me.
One evening I returned from an all day outing to find our place empty. My roommate was likely at the bars and it felt good to have the house to myself. I took a long bath, one of the real joys in that humid country, and was renewed. I then passed before the devotional image of Christ. As I meditated on this, an overwhelming sense of spiritual communion stirred within me. I made a deeply earnest prayer for God to come into my life and use me as an instrument of His will. I then took one of my favorite drawings, the one of our house and burned it in a barbeque pan that served as our ashtray. I wasn't sure what compelled me to make this holocaust and I readily continued my activities and didn't contemplate the ramifications of my action.
After living uptown for 5 months, I felt I knew the area quite well. Our landlord rarely came by for the rent since every time he did so we gave him a list of repairs to our place. I was spending more and more time in the French Quarter and had met an artist who would loan me his permit so that I might pick up a few bucks selling my work on Jackson Square.
One day, walking past a small group seated on a stoop, I struck up a conversation with a colorful fellow who was about to leave town. He said that he had thrown the I Ching and decided that now was the best time. During the course of our conversation he offered to let us have his apartment.
On the Southeast corner Rampart and Esplanade stood an ancient dwelling whose fire escape offered a delightful view of the rooftops. At $60.00 a month we were only too happy to move right in and kept our uptown location as well.
Buried Treasure! Under the drain pipe of this building exists one of my pins.
At this time I felt the most independent sense I had known in my life. I didn’t think I needed anyone - my job position seemed secure and there was constant progress in every field of my awareness. This came to a screeching stop on July 20, 1975.
It was another hot day, there were no plans for the day; it was Sunday and I had slept in till around 11:00. The heat finally made it impossible to stay in bed so I rousted myself up to prepare for a lazy, relaxed day. My roommate had been up for a few hours and had gone for a walk on the beach. After dressing myself and a bit of food I decided to catch up with him.
I crossed the street and railroad tracks and started up the levee. At the top I stopped for awhile and looked out over the Mississippi, it was too hot to think about much more than how nice it would feel to cool off in the water. I started down the other side of the levee, made my way through some trees until I was on the beach. The water was muddy as usual and it seemed to have receded more than usual overnight. Down one side of the beach was my friend throwing stones and examining the vegetation. After a few words there was only one thing left to do - go for a swim.
I lifted my hands to the bottom of my tee shirt and stretched it across my back and over my head, kicked my shoes off and left it in a heap. I gauged my steps to a trot, then running towards the water, my feet slightly giving way under the sand, splashing up a spray as I entered the river.
Anticipating the drenching was already a relief. One final step before leaping, then airborne, the rush of the wind over my body, then a sharp smack of darkness flashed through me as I crashed headlong into five inches of water.Shock overcame me as I tried unsuccessfully to lift myself up. All I could feel was the air packed in my lungs pressing for escape. Again, with all my strength I struggled to move something, anything. As I felt my head bobbing on the bottom I began to realize the seriousness of the situation. I then heard my friend’s voice above me and saw nothing but a brownish gray when I opened my eyes. In my mind I was screaming at him for help. I felt his touch on the top of my head.
Air finally gave way to water slowly in my lungs as he lifted my upper body clear of the suffocating shallow. The freshest breath of air I had ever inhaled. I looked at the confused look on my friend’s face and I knew I was in big trouble, Call an ambulance I said. He dragged me on to the shore as much as he could and told me he’d run to our friend’s house a few blocks away for help.
As he ran off, I looked down at my legs. A tingling kind of numbness was all I could feel. I started my desperate prayer... Our father, who art in heaven... Help came, an ambulance made it’s way to the beach. Our mutual friend was there with his older brother who was the paramedic in charge of the ambulance. He had a special stretcher that would go under me without lifting my body.
Once in the ambulance, we started to pull out. It jerked a couple times and got stuck. They revved and pushed, but we could not get free of the sandy beach. They finally called in a tow truck and we were hauled to solid ground. I was asked what hospital I wanted to go to. The only public health hospital in New Orleans was Charity Hospital downtown, so that’s what I said.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see the crowds that had assembled on the levee as we turned on the sirens and started screaming down St. Charles toward the emergency room.
There were more confused faces as I was wheeled down halls to an examination room. Up on a table I was surrounded by professional looking people. One guy was drawing a line across my chest where my sensation stopped while I gave information to a black woman with a clipboard. The head nuerosurgeon came in, asked me some of the same questions the black women had asked me, then instructed them to put me on what they called a circle bed and get me to intensive care.
At this time my body and mind were at the most intense, a fever shot up and down. My breathing was so bad that I had to have my trache tube connected to a respirator, which was never synchronized with my own breathing and would set off an alarm during a struggle.
My bed sore had enlarged but didn’t give me any pain. The infection in my neck continued to be the most important affliction. Saline was forced in while another tube suctioned. About twice a week the doctor would come in and reach into my neck to remove infected material. I was losing weight fast and after awhile I couldn’t eat for fear that it would feed the infection.
There was terrible and wonderful accident that occurred one afternoon. I had been moved out of ICU to an adjoining ward by a window but I couldn’t see out. My mother and brother were taking turns staying with me. I don’t know if I was the worst-off patient or not but I was directly across from the nurse’s desk.
This one day both mom and brother were together and it was decided that I should lay on my stomach to relive the pressure against my sore. It was a complicated procedure. While on my back a board was attached above me and I was secured into place with straps. The motor was switched on and it started to move the bed to an upright position. As I became more vertical my blood pressure would drop drastically and I would begin to pass out. After being turned forward more on to my stomach I would come to again. I had to lay in this position for four hours staring at the floor. My family returned to me after dining in the cafeteria and were ready to help turn me back .
A doctor was doing charts at the nurse’s desk. An aid said she would help us through the moves. When we protested and said we would wait for a nurse she got upset and started listing her credentials, so we decided to go ahead. The straps started to go around me, cushions were placed strategically and when all seemed secure she turned on the motor.
It whirled as my head started rising. My mother was right next to me helping to support one side with her hands. She was the first to notice something wrong. My feet were tangled in the machinery below my bed and I was becoming loose from the straps. He’s slipping, he’s slipping, my mother’s voice grew loud and alarming. I felt myself dropping down, my chin went up and my trach tube in my neck pushed against the bed.
That was the last sensation before my death. Suddenly, I was being transported through an alternative consciousness, full of light, caught up in the flow of motion. A rushing wind sound filled my hearing and there was warmth all around. I witnessed a shining brilliance engulfing my total being outward and inward. After a long moment of fascination, I remembered about the hospital and my family, and started to get frightened.
I started to blink my eyes and shrug my shoulders madly in an attempt to feel my body again. I began to feel myself slowing down and the light glow started to fade. I continued to try to move as much as I could by blinking and turning my head. Then I heard my brother’s voice, C’mon, Brom, C’mon he said.
A darkness came over my mind just before the outlines of the room came into focus.
Then, I realized just what had happened; that I had died and my journey to the hereafter had begun. I will never forget.
There was the doctor too; he had a resuscitation unit over my neck, a hand pump that he used to force air into me. I felt reborn, a resurrection had taken place. I had been beyond life, into the Great Hereafter. I still couldn’t talk though and had a difficult time trying to explain what had occurred.
Mom and Bill told me what had happened on this side of reality. How I started turning blue after falling half way out of the bed. The nurse’s aid who helped us had disappeared and I don’t remember seeing her after that.
The hours and days creeped by very slowly - every breath was an effort and I could tell the anxiety was beginning to tax my mom. I was able to wake her by merely sucking my mouth into a click in case I needed help. Bill was not so easy to wake up so worked with me in the day while mom stayed with a friend (Molly,the receptionist at work). (Bill slept at Bogg’s). He also did many drawings including portraits of me with tubes , wires, and the rest of my paraphernalia.
A transistor radio hung on my ‘circle’ bed along with pictures by Reno, Sherry. A flower or two would usually be suspended. Almost always it would be chrysanthemums. And I have an intense aversion to them to this day, although at the time they were important to keep my imagination fresh. Recognizing faces hidden in the petals.
A recent friend, named Ken, whom I had met at the Heritage Festival a couple months earlier gave me a portable, black and white TV which made the time go by a little better. It helped me to take my mind off my troubles. Two programs I rarely missed were the Virginian at 2:00 p.m. and The Untouchables at 11:00 p.m..
About this time, approximately five weeks into the ordeal my father arrived from Seattle. I could tell some of his grief in his face as he looked over me.
I had recently lost some blood as the result of a failed blood test and if things weren’t bad enough, the hospital was out of my blood type. Father was notified and immediately was recruited to give of himself. I was getting used to the trache tube and my words were beginning to get out and we could communicate with difficulty. Bill and mom were noticeably lifted by his presence and the news that I could be transferred to U.W. Hospital as soon as the doctors concurred.
It was to be an expensive trip. Not only did money have to be raised for Bill, mom and myself - who took two seats and a nurse who was hired from Florida, with a round trip ticket of course. Leaving depended on my condition which at the time was somewhat guarded mainly because of my high fever as the result of infection to the injury site. Different techniques were employed to dislodge infected material without further damage. Nothing was successful at this and once again I began to feel doomed.
Father had to return to work and all of us felt a little lower. Helping to cheer my spirits were cards and letters arriving with more frequency as news of this tragedy reached more people. One letter from Bill’s girl, Sherry, informed us of a benefit she had organized to raise cash for travel expenses. It was held at Freeway Hall in Seattle and music was performed by friends in the business. A highly successful endeavor I was later told by organizers and guests. I’m glad it didn’t turn out to be a wake .
Anticipation of departure was at a high level and only my higher temperature prevented us from going. Mother also confided to me that she had almost reached the end of her rope and might go home for awhile. Relatives from San Antonio and Chicago offered to come but it turned out they didn’t need to.
It was mid -September now and I was feeling better, anti-biotics were hav ing a good effect and I was authorized to be discharged. I had been prepared to leave for a long time, but I found it hard to believe when it finally came. Records had already been sent with X-rays, etc. Our male nurse was introduced and was a young man. He seemed confident enough but had a hearing impairment. He helped doctors fix a portable brace for my neck and handled the two IV’s which accompanied us.
We all breathed a sigh of relief as I was placed on a gurney and wheeled out of the ward. I had been confined for seven weeks. There was anxiety on the faces of the nurses who I had come to know. Except for relief on the face of one nurse who was sure of my survivability.
Being outside for the first time in so long was unforgettable. Warm and overcast, with a light spray wetting my face. I felt 100% better as I was lifted into the ambulance for the ride to the airport. It was more of a relaxed trip than it had been on the way to Charity.
While Bill and mom were asking questions about what to expect for the trip, I turned my head slightly and watched what I knew would be my last view of those roads which I had so happily traveled on my bicycle just a couple months before.
But Seattle was ahead of me and I began to concentrate on this aspect of my odyssey. At the airport officials were shocked at my condition and refused to admit us at first. Some fast talk by our nurse to a supervisor remedied the situation.
We were the first on, but had some problem since the stretcher was too long to negotiate a corner. Eventually, I was lifted onto the seats in first-class and my nurse sat next to me with Bill and mom directly behind. The rest of the first-class passengers began filing by, some sneaking a peek at me, others staring blatantly. It wasn’t long before we were airborn but soon thereafter, we touched down again in Houston, under very stormy conditions. We had been scheduled to change planes here but after all the trouble getting me on in New Orleans, it was easier for every one else to change which they did. It was still nearly an hour before we left as the lighting and rain had increased. This began to worry us because another ambulance was waiting in Seattle.
After being in the air for 45 minutes my throat began to fill with phlegm and I had to be suctioned. It was not a pretty sight and it probably made the other riders uneasy. The nurse would insert the tube down my trache tube while Bill stepped on a pump in the aisle repeatedly until all was clear. This happened six times during the trip. We had a close call over Portland when the nurse noticed my stomach expanding. I couldn’t feel any difference so I wanted to go on. A call was made into Portland for hospitalization but since Seattle was only 35 minutes away, we decided to continue.
A very emotional scene ensued when we landed. The flight crew were more courteous than could normally be expected and my family was allowed to come onto the plane. One at a time their faces came into view. I could tell their faces were strained to smile. Indeed they were happy to see me but not knowing what to expect, they were shocked.
I was loaded onto a lift and rolled into the ambulance which I noticed right away was much better equipped than the one I had gotten out of a few hours earlier.
I wanted dearly to see the Seattle skyline as we drove to the Hospital, but I was unable to see anything but freeway walls. At University Hospital, we were met by admitting officials who guided us to the sixth floor. It was quite late when I was taken to my single, isolation room next to the nurse’s station. While visiting with family and a couple friends who were there, I met my doctor. He did not realize my condition was so serious and after asking a few questions, he left to enlist other doctors for help.
Nurses began to appear to explain procedures and putting everyone’s mind at ease about my upcoming care. To my relief, there was a call light that would ring the nurses at my slightest touch, which I would activate by turning my head. It had been an exhausting day and it wasn’t long before I was alone and after saying a short prayer of thanks I fell into a deep sleep.
As I expected, the next day began very early. Before sunrise, I was visited by hematologists to draw blood. This seemed vampirous to me and I soon discovered that having the blood drawn from my wrist was painless because of the paralysis. Soon after my doctor arrived with a bevy of students in tow. Wondrous were their eyes as they looked at the tubes, my size, and smile. I now felt that these were to be my saviors and I would be walking again in no time.
More doctors and nurses arrived. Residents, attending, ear, nose and throat - all with students. Unknown to me, the worst part of my condition was the bed sore over by tailbone. I was able to talk clearer and explained my feelings and concerns. After meeting the respiratory therapist I discovered I didn’t need to be suctioned as often.
An attractive but serious physical therapist entered to explain her services. Some minor stretching of my arms revealed tightness that would take weeks of pain to get limber again. It was also she who tried to dash my hopes of regained mobility, telling me I would never walk again.
I hadn’t eaten for two weeks, surviving on IV’s of artificial sustenance which was agreed to be discontinued in favor of a tube inserted directly into my stomach. Liquid protein could then be drained into me. This was not a difficult operation but made me dreadfully sick as my digestive fluids tried to dissolve the plastic and rubber. I began to vomit bile which would congest my infected trachea making breathing difficult. However, the nurse call-light was easily available and I was attended to quickly.
For fear of further infection, doctors, nurses and guests were required to wear gowns and wash hands before leaving. This was an understandable hassle and many of my friends who came visiting didn't return for weeks due to the inconvenience. Still, I was happy to be on my old stomping grounds and I was determined to make the most of my rehabilitation.
My first surgery would be to clean my neck infection and close the hole in my esophogas. A multitude of x rays and other tests were first conducted before the administering of the sodium penathol. I woke with a sore throat for the ages and a hope that soon I might be able to eat real food again. I had lost roughly 30 pounds and large portions of my hair were falling out.
A week and a half later the doctors said it was alright for me to eat soft food. I requested a taste of orange but the citric acid burned my taste buds and I tried something more bland. My father fewlt most relieved that he could finally do something for me. That same day, he went to Seattle's Chinatown for our favorite Dim Sum and stuffed my face until I begged for mercy. I was prescribed extra sandwichs to help me get my weight back and enjoyed treating my friends to my stash from the unit refrigerator when they would visit.
Regular sessions of physical therapy kept my muscles from atrophying further. Leather straps attached to my wrists would be hooked to weights and I would pull till totally exhausted. In occupational therapy it was more of a challenge. I was laying in what is called a Stryker Frame. An apparatus designed to flip one from their stomach to their back in order to relieve pressure on sore areas. I had a humdinger. Across my tailbonwas a large open wound that would prevent me from sitting in a regular chair for many months.
I played cards with Deena, my pretty occupational therapist and took various psychological tests designed I supposed to see how I might deal with my new state. I recall sleeping a great deal during my early rehabilitation. Invariably during my dreamstate, I was walking and using my hands as if everything was perfectly normal although on ocassion my legs would begin to float out and off the ground. I'd grab onto something and force my feet back onto the ground and take a few steps when they would start floating away again.
The day finally came that my tailbone was healed enough to begin sitting in a chair. First though I was transfered onto a table that would tilt upright in order to help my body to build up enough blood pressure to sit without passing out. An elastic binder wrapped around my middle and long support hose helped also but I was still very woozy when I first sat in the chair and the nurses would tip me back until the stars cleared from before my eyes.
I shall never forget the sight of me in the full length mirror when I was wheeled into the physical therapy department. When I last looked at my body I had been at the peak of my physical appearance. Tall, tanned, with flowing long hair and a wry expression. Now I was less than pitiful with pillows propped about my wasted body to prevent sores, wisps of hair cropped close for ease of cleaning and though I had always been slim I was now so skinny and unhealthy looking I could not bear to look at myself.
So this is what I've become, I wondered as I looked around at the other unfortunates who were doing their best to recover some small measure of independence. For me It might as well been a lost cause. There was simply no way I was going to be strong enough to care for my own body. I could learn to do certain functions. Cleaning myself and partially dressing myself, but without being able to transfer myself from bed to chair I would henceforth need assistance from others. For someone like myself who relished solitude and found it difficult at times to relate to others this would become a mighty challenge.
In another sense I felt liberated. This was surely to be the biggest adventure I would ever embark upon. No one expected me to really work again and the expectations in general were so low that I could only improve from this lowly starting place. I was already receiving benefits I had earned through Social Security and my health insurance was obtained through Medicare. More funds would be allocated from the state in order for me to hire an attendant after my discharge from the hospital.
Therapy sessions continued and I learned to fit a special metal brace on my forearm that would bring my fingers together in such a way that I was able to hold a fork and with difficulty feed myself. With some arm movement I was able to turn pages in a book but the attempts to draw with my hand splint were utterly worthless. With full function in my neck and shoulders I decide to try and create an image holding a brush in my mouth. The early efforts using this method were also extremely discouraging but at least I could work longer without becoming fatigued.
I took as my early inspiration the signpainting strokes I had been doing in New Orleans and the abstract paintings of Mark Tobey and Jackson Pollock. I painted lines, colored or in black, not concerning myself with subject matter or shapes beyond what the brush would determine on its own. I had a surprise visitor one day that would give me great encouragement.
Aside from my occupational and physical therapies there was a recreational therapy component to my care. When approached to join the other patients for a movie or pizza I would decline to pursue my own diversions. The therapist kept at me and desired to be of some service. I had casually mentioned that I admired the paintings of Jacob Lawrence who taught at the art school of the University of Washington. There had been a large retrospective of his work at the New Orleans Museum that I had seen just before my accident and I told the therapist that I would like him to see my work and offer some advice.
Professor Lawrence came after lunch one day, his warm smile lighting up the room. After introductions we got down to looking at a sketchbook of drawings that I had done prior to my injury and the recent dismal efforts that were pinned around my room. Not surprisingly, he seemed to prefer those sketches that showed knowledge of draughtmanship rather than my more abstract designs. To have my work taken seriously like this reinforced my desire to redevelop my art and with this direction I came to increasingly feel that my life was not over but had taken a drastic turn and that art would help me to make the most of it.