Viva la Vida – Live Life


I use to think the only gifts I wanted to get for myself were “treats”, when I turned 50 last summer, it was not so different, however, it was much more meaningful.  A self-portrait of myself as a woman whom I have been enamored by for many years.  I first really dug into Frida in the late 90’s.  Often and for many years I was blinded by the morbid depiction of her life in her paintings of nothing but blood, guts, socialism, and darkness.  However, everything changed for me when a buddy of mine decided to cheer me up during a near death health scare of my own, I nearly lost my life and was bedridden with an undiagnosed disorder that completely flipped my life around forever.  His way to cheer me up was with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, pizza, and a book!  Which book? “Frida – a Biography of Frida Kahlo” by Hayden Herrera 

I was not  immediately intrigued and the book sat for a few days,  unopened and unappreciated.  I may have judged Frida far too soon and perhaps unjustly due to her specific work. In the middle of my own health crisis at the moment, I decided one day to open the book!  I also decided to NOT look at any more of her art work until I read the entire book, and yes this meant even photos inside the book.

For the most part, I think everyone or the majority of the people know Frida’s story or at the least, the horrible bus accident she was in at the age of 18, this was to be the first of her many injuries, physical and mental of her life.  The book goes into quite a bit of detail, including many hand sketches, and personal notes from the broken artist, no pun intended, and this helped to mold what I call today, a sort of parallel or “connection”  I feel I have with her. Once I picked up this book, I felt compelled to have it near me constantly, at bedtime, when I woke up, as I cooked, well, you get the picture.

As I continued to read I could relate with her medical and body sufferings, perhaps not to the extent as her bus accident, but, back then in 1997, I had recently had my own brush of death with an unknown pregnancy that resulted in a miscarriage which then resulted into extreme internal bleeding and a life-threatening internal infection that could not be controlled for many days in the hospital.  I recall pleading to my closest and dearest friend Juli, whom was with me during this ordeal, where my important papers were and to please tell my son Angelo, how very much I love him and what kind of person I was.  In the event of my death, the one thing I needed my son to know was that I love him.  Thankfully,  I was sent home after a few days, but my life would never be the same.

For nearly a year and a half, my sever onset vertigo (what we thought at the time), was an undiagnosed disorder known today as Wobblers Disease (aka) Oscillopsia  I won’t go into detail what happened to me and how this hindered my my physical and mental well being, but I did find myself drawing the drapes, turning off lights and maintaining myself in a dark apartment for months at a time, I saw very little people, only those dear to me, and I barely left the apartment.  I was blessed to have a lovely neighbor, Thelma, who offered to take my son to school and pick him up daily as I was not able to do so.  Meals were limited to what I could stand to prepare and cook,  but for the most part while my son was in school or with his father, I spent it alone, in a dark room, alone, and felt horribly depressed about what was to become, my new life.

Doctors warned me I would NEVER be able to walk without the assistance of a cane or walker, I would never drive, I would never shower unassisted, and I would have the granny syndrome for the rest of my life.  My life, at least I had that, some have had kidney liver or have lost their hearing altogether, I was labeled as “The Lucky One”, because I simply lost my sense of equilibrium due to the nerve damage from my inner ear to my brain which controls my vestibular function.  From now on, I could only walk or move by visual cues, forget about putting me in a dark room, ever again!

In 1999, shortly after finally being diagnosed, I had another accident which I thought for sure would be more traumatic than it was, I fell down an entire flight of cement and iron stairs, I did not just fall, I tumbled over and over until I hit the very bottom, injuring my head, my back, my legs, knees and hands,  I was horrified, I did not have to go to the hospital although I was banged up pretty bad for many weeks.  More depression came forth as well as seclusion, and here I was trying to have a good time and live my life as well as can be expected.

Take a look at what it looks like through my own eyes, thankfully with years of Vestibular Rehabilitation I have been able to return to work, after 5 years of disability, I walk without a cane, I can drive, due to teaching myself how to cancel out and maintain my head with support, as well as do what I love most, which as you know is photography.  [See what it looks like “permanently” from a Wobblers perspective.  Oscillopsia VIDEO 

More injury — November 2011, I decided to finally undergo Bariatric Surgery due to a lifelong battle of obesity, many years as a diabetic, high blood pressure, and chronic asthma sufferer.  I was told by my surgeon, the Chief at Stanford Medical Center, that I would require having an IVC Filter inserted into my artery as to prevent the possibility of pulmonary embolisms in large patients during surgery, this was supposed to protect me.

After what my surgeon called a successful roux en y procedure, I was sent home just after two days!  I felt amazing and I was looking forward to my new lifestyle and eating choices as well as losing weight to be a healthier happier me.  About 8 weights after surgery I was to return to Stanford, this time to have the Vascular Surgeon remove the IVC Filter.  Another nightmare began…..after many hours of a “twilight” me, extreme exposure to radiation, and tugging and pulling, which I eventually felt, they could NOT retrieve the filter from my artery.  I was traumatized beyond belief, I was semi awake all these hours, but when I felt the “tug” near the ending attempt, I screamed and said that was enough, 4 hours, you bet it was enough!  They sent me home and indicated they need to have a special tool to retrieve the filter.  Again, not happy, and sent home feeling physically exhausted and torn.  The procedure involves entering through my neck into the main artery to do all of this, to this day I have scarring from all of their attempts.

I won’t go into much detail, but the next two weeks were horrifying as I waited to hear back from Stanford for another attempt, my Bariatric Surgeon was not happy, and I was horrified but determined to follow my new eating plan.  However, almost immediately I began to feel ill, for the next two weeks, I could barely walk, cough, eat or drink, I became week and the pain in my lungs, chest and stomach as well as legs became apparently troublesome.  I insisted my husband drive me to my bariatric surgeons office.  Almost immediately he knew something was wrong, he could barely examine me at the touch I screamed.  I was directed to receive an urgent CT Scan with Contrast Dye, great, more radiation!   When the doctors came into the room, my husband and I knew something was horribly wrong.  “We don’t know how to tell you this, but you are completely filled with Pulmonary Embolisms, in your lungs, main arteries, and legs (DVT)”.  Are you kidding me?  A filter which was supposed to prevent this from happening actually caused it.  Well, between you and me yes it could have saved my life, but that Vascular Surgeon, in my opinion, was the cause by his persistence of tugging and pulling.  My bariatric surgeon was not happy and I was immediately admitted to CCU for several days of more torture and a serious sad long and lonely 5 days.  I will be forever thankful to Dr. Morton as  he recruited the TOP GUN in the country, Interventional Radiologist, Dr. William Kuo whom also happens to be at Stanford, and I was assured if anyone can,  he can!  Great, more radiation, however, this time I felt safe and I trusted what Dr. Morton said about him.  I also did my research on him and found him brilliant, he saved many lives and I felt optimistic and faithful that this would work.  Immediately after being discharged I told my husband I wanted to go for a walk with our dogs on the Stanford Campus, being laid flat on a bed and not being able to move, eat or drink even water, made me feel the biggest appreciation for fresh air, mobility and my family. I think only medical professionals understand what PE’s are how dangerous they are and that I was a walking time bomb and this could have had a very different ending, a fatality.

A few weeks later, I returned to Stanford frightened yet hopeful, and this time I really trusted in Dr. Kuo.  I cannot begin to tell you how ecstatic, after a couple of hours in twilight procedure,  I was when I heard him say, we were able to retrieve the filter.

These are just some of the many parallels I have felt a certain connection to Frida, there are many more, my mother, my birthdate, her date of death, dragonflies, ask my husband about that one.  Frida painted with a brush, I paint with my camera, I may not depict my life as she did because there is no comparison to her life of horrible destruction to her body, isolation, a life of horrible pain, many surgeries, a turbulent marriage to Diego River, betrayal, excessive drinking, smoking and cussing, and other factors, but I can say this now and with an open mind, I totally get her and I see similar suffering, and situations in my life.  She lived her life to the fullest, and I decided years ago, doctors could not determine how I live the rest of my life, only God does and in this case my faith is what saved my life, even if it costed my life.

I am thrilled you are here and I thank you for visiting my blog…..and as Frida says “Viva la Vida!” (live life).

Frida kahlo portrait, san francisco fine art photography