September 4, 2015

Clipped Wings and Broken Things

Alta Lake Reflections 8X10" Left-handed  demo, field study

On August 1, I headed out for a lovely morning cycle.  I recently got a new road bike, and have been enjoying cycling a lot this summer.  After a month of riding, I took the leap to clip in pedals. I'd never had clip ins before, and was still getting used to them.  I think you may know where I am going here....

I had to brake suddenly in traffic, and couldn't get my foot out in time to avoid falling onto the pavement.   I rolled over after the impact to assess the damage.  I  had landed on my right elbow. It would seem upon first glance that I had two elbow joints. "This can't be good" I thought aloud as I lay in a heap on the pavement.

An ambulance ride an MRI and some xrays later, I learned I had broken the end of my ulna clean off, in addition to dislocating my elbow.  My elbow was reset, the new part for my elbow surgically installed.  My surgeon came to assess my condition after I left the recovery room.  My hand was not working...nerve damage had occurred during surgery, and I was in the three percent of cases in which this occurred.

Recovery and rehabilitation of the elbow is coming along, but the outcome for the nerve repair in my right hand is an unknown. Two weeks after my surgery, I was slated to teach a workshop in Whistler.  I didn't cancel as I knew my ability to teach was not impaired, just my ability to paint.  When I broke my right wrist two years ago I had experimented with left handed painting, and did a few studio pieces that turned out alright, so perhaps I could manage my demos that way.  This would be tougher as it would not only involve left handed painting, but it would involve one handed painting.

Being able to continually wipe and clean brushes while painting requires two hands, no matter what way you slice it.  I assigned a willing student the job of wiping my brushes while I was painting, and so I muddled through some demos, urged on by my most patient students who were quite certain they would benefit from watching even my left handed efforts.   I have posted one above.  Shapes and edges are not resolved as you can see.  It was pretty frustrating.

I have spent my whole life learning to paint, and really don't have any other highly developed skill sets, so this has been a challenge to navigate.

Here is something I have learned in my life - when things break it is not always a bad thing.  There are losses created when a pitcher cracks, but when a window is cracked, it lets in fresh air.  When a door is cracked, you can swing it open and see what is on the other side.

When a pinata is broken open, gifts pour out.

So, you just never know.  I haven't gone back into the studio in the last couple of weeks, but will venture back in before long and see what happens.  My work right now is learning to stay with being "broken".  Maybe not broken down, but broken open.  I am experiencing some fear and frustration, but that is giving me the opportunity to cultivate some courage and patience.

I shall keep you posted.

In the meantime, out of solidarity, maybe try some paintings with your left hand.  It will teach you simplification and economy of stroke, I guarantee it.



  1. I love your attitude Gaye and wish you a full and speedy recovery. Wonder if there are some holistic ways to heal nerve damage?

    1. Not that I am aware of, Staar. Good nutrition, plenty of rest and fresh air and excercise (no cycling for awhile;) some supplements to help with inflammation, etc. If you hear of something, let me know. Thanks for your good wishes.

  2. A good recommendation, Gaye - I will be trying it. Here is to good healing.

  3. I've been thinking about you lots, Gaye. I am glad you are sharing your experience. I know that you look for the beauty in the tough stuff, that is so inspiring. Sending you lots of love and encouragement and hope to connect before too long. suz

  4. Thanks Suz. I see the surgeon tomorrow and find out what his plan is. My hand can only get better from here, right?

  5. Thank you for sharing this my friend. You are a very special person and I am so blessed to have you in my life. I am praying for a speedy recovery for you and as we both know life throws you curve balls but what is most important is how we deal with them. You are one of those incredibly amazing women. It will all work out. Love you and thank you for sharing.

  6. Oh Gaye I am so sorry for you and give you my best wishes--keep on fighting the good fight! Love you and your work!