“Medicine is an art, not a science,” explained a friend recently, as I struggled with misdiagnoses and conflicting reports.
“Fifteen people looked at my wife’s images,” he continued, “and only one analyzed it correctly.”
(pictured, Dr. Dog, a 7-foot mixed media on chrome, from the collection of Lafayette General Hospital as part of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts' Art for Healing Program; more on mixed medias at this link; click photo to enlarge-)
I’ve thought a lot recently about opinions, specifically about how we view others, how our egos guide us into dangerous errors and, without mentioning specifics, how hero-worship precludes not only effective analyses, but also focused concern. After trying for years, I've finally mastered answering well-meaning, impossible questions like "How's George?" or, worse, "How are you?" with a question, lest I drift into overreaction or, worse, reality.
The word “hopeful” haunts me within emails and conversation, losing its meaning in repetition. Articles and websites mention the latest medical procedures as “hopeful,” not to mention the word's proliferation within personal health blogs, support groups and, until this realization, my own email updates. As I sat in another hospital waiting room today, author Liza Campbell admitted, “I do not feel at all hopeful,” on the pages of A Charmed Life, a gift, pre-crisis, from my sister Heather.
I asked George about the word, but he claims not to have noticed.
“Discomfort,” he declares. “That’s the word of the month. If one more doctor or disclaimer mentions ‘discomfort,’ I’ll scream. ‘Discomfort’ means pain for days, especially the promised ‘discomfort’ as they send you home on the Friday of a holiday weekend. Discomfort, HA!”
(pictured, Doctor on the Bayou by George Rodrigue; detailed at this link-)
I wonder, had I questioned the hopeful doctors and fought with the hopeful nurses, would my mother be alive today? Instead, my ego guided me, as I worried more about interrupting the stressed health care workers than addressing her discomfort, an issue that even I, a medical novice, noted with suspicion.
The oil paints and especially the spray varnishes that assaulted George’s body with hepatitis in the mid-1980s returned with a vengeance in recent months, despite his switch years ago to acrylic paint.
“Many nights I fell into bed as the room spun around me. It’s the reason I moved my studio from Jefferson Street to Landry’s,” explains George. “I couldn’t breathe anymore in the attic. I don’t know if it was those forty paintings or what…”
… recalling the paintings from the book Bayou, a project for the 1984 World’s Fair, including the first Blue Dog painting. Despite the move, however, George continued to poison himself, painting the Saga of the Acadians, several presidential portraits, and numerous early Blue Dog works all in oil before a doctor diagnosed the source of his illness.
(pictured, George Rodrigue at his easel, mid-1980s; click photo to enlarge-)
“I don’t want to hear about these problems anymore,” said George recently. “I only want to make art.”
Twenty-five years later those same toxins ate away his L-1 vertebrae, nearly collapsing his spine until a savior, a single doctor, recognized the crisis on an MRI last week, after half a dozen others dismissed George’s pain as ordinary discomfort. The surgeon filled his vertebrae with concrete, securing his spine just days before paralysis.
I asked him before surgery if George would be fine. The doctor replied,
“We have every reason to be hopeful.”
Are you depressed? If yes, explain…, asks the hospital forms. I hesitate, Of course he’s depressed! I want to scream, Who wouldn’t be?! But that would be a tirade, so unlike me, and, for better or worse I mark “no.”
“He is already well,” stated a friend earlier this week. “Remember that, whatever the doctors say and whatever the test results."
He has a good brain…. I thought to myself as George entered his brain scan the following day.
And I was right.