My uncle is an 83 year-old retired orthopedic surgeon. When in his 40’s, his bicycle collapsed beneath him. His doctors told him he would be in a wheelchair the rest of his life. He has not sat one full week in a wheelchair. Over the past 40 years, he has had 10 major back surgeries, the last one, two years ago. During the 15 hour operation, bone grafts were removed from his hips, then placed in his spine to act as cushions between his crumbled discs. Steel rods were inserted along his spinal column to assure the grafts were protected. The rods were removed three months later.
I was honored Dr. Peter asked for a Bodyscapes session. Naively, I said, “I assume the word you want to start with is pain.” Blankly, he looked at me. “Diane, why would I want to use that word? I do not experience pain. I have had ten surgeries and I have never used prescription pain killers.” I was dumbfounded when he added, “I simply do not register pain. Pain is subjective. It varies in all individuals. No, let’s talk about my mind. It is one’s mental disposition, how you see the world, which defines one’s pain.” I realized this man of science, my uncle, had pre-determined he felt comfortable with me to expose the inside of his well-trained mind.
Our journey with words began. Most clients follow my suggestion to arrive to a session with three words. The first word lists the diagnosis. The second word tells the location of the diagnosis. The third word describes the predominant feeling about living with the diagnosis. My uncle, true to his rebellious nature, arrived with only one word, mind. We searched the pages of the dictionary, moving from one definition to another. He chose straight forward adjectives, persistence, endurance, resolution and punctual.We skipped down to the words, reactionary and rebellious. “No one would call me a reactionary. But, rebellious. My mind rebels in the sense that I believe contradictory to what most people would feel about what’s happening to me. I will not feel badly for myself. Or give up now that I am 83 years old. I am rebellious in that way.”
The Bodyscapes Program has two components, the prose poetry generator and the creation of a visual expression of a medical diagnosis. Each section can take up to 45 minutes. I monitor the time, giving “time check-ins” to stay on track. My uncle sat looking at this word list. “It is now time to create your poem, Uncle.” He looked up, “But we have only explored one part of my mind. The right side of my brain has been left out. ” I folded my hands. “Diane, I do not know if you know this about me. I am a highly emotional man. ” We looked up the definition to the word, emotional. It supplied us with various meanings aptly expressing different qualities of his “emotional mind”. We talked about art and perception.
Seeing Soul by Dr. Peter Sciarretta
Mind, outmoded, reactionary, no longer acceptable beliefs
endure, persist, punctual resolution
delicate sensitivity, sentiment, romantic
subjective emotional quality with freedom of form
The drawing section of a Bodyscapes Program involves looking through a medical atlas to find a picture of the part of your body which is affected by illness. Whenever I flip through a medical atlas with a physician, I learn a lot of facts. I learn that physicians do not “see” illness. They do not imagine it’s colors or textures in any way that represents an emotional connection to that illness. My uncle was no different, at first. We discussed his spinal cord injury which originates “where my cranium meets my spinal cord. I will sketch a head in profile to represent his mind. ” After some time, he put down his pencil and said, “Now, I need to draw a representation of my “emotional” mind. There can only be one organ that can adequately represent that, a heart.”
The Bodyscapes Program offers clients as much or as little art instruction as they choose. My uncle, a student of many subjects, like instruction. “We must consider where to place the image of the heart on the page and how large it will be in proportion to the image of your mind.” He responded, “But, anatomically the heart is one-third the size of the head and shoulders. What other size could it be drawn?” Now, I smiled and nodded. “Uncle, you have entered the realm of the artist. You can move beyond what is anatomically correct to seek to draw an image of a heart which will aptly express the emotional context of your poem.” “Diane, are you challenging me to declare the proportional relationship between my resolute, persistent and rebellious mind to my sentimental, romantic emotional mind? So, we have entered into a conversation about my soul.”
The Bodyscapes Program has brought me into more intimate relationships with my relatives. “Uncle, how big is your emotional mind? And where on the page will you place this image of a heart as large as your mind? Closer to the top of the page.” I pointed to the area. “Now, Niece,” he said, “Are you implying that my enlarged heart is higher therefore superior to my mind?” I smiled. “If I draw the heart larger that implies I believe my emotional soul is larger than my mind. But, I do not believe that. I believe they are equal, the same. ” He sketched a very well drawn heart. The image was drawn darker and bolder than the image of the head in silhouette (see drawing above).
Fifteen minutes later, we looked at his incomplete black and white drawing. “The silhouette of my mind is a light sketch. I guess I am still working on making my mind stronger. In my drawing, my mind is looking into the open left ventricle of my heart. A man not really looking into his heart but a man searching for emotion for his soul and for his being. Searching for being in his heart enlarged to the size of his head. The search for being and enlightenment. Diane, people do not have time to go on this search. I am not sure the human being can do this search well. But, that is what you have just brought to me. I have spent years in hospitals. The only patients who get well are the ones who say they have reason to get well. The Bodyscapes Program gives people the time to search to see where they have meaning. A way to search for meaning, that’s what you have created. Your clients search through the dictionary and thesaurus to find ourselves, wondering who we are right now in this moment, sitting before you supported by books which give meanings and ideas to meanings and pictures of the inside of our bodies.”
The Red & Orange House relies on support from individual donors to maintain our work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Each gift brings another art-making experience to a patient’s bedside or their family while sitting in the family surgical waiting room. Donor benefits include a weekly subscription to our upcoming newsletter. You can share in the powerful healing moments experienced by program participants and their families.
The Red & Orange House is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization; all gifts are tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law.