Several years ago I sustained an eye injury that was rather life changing. I wrote “rather” because in a relative assessment of all possible life changing events it doesn’t alter the bell curve. Still as it is my event, it does seem fairly significant to me. Not earthquake, actual space aliens, win the lottery life changing but more mundane every day life changing. My event was an easily avoidable injury that was in fact totally my fault.
I was acting as manager for my son’s hockey team. I was taking pictures of a practice drill and got too close to the action. I didn’t realize how close as I happened to be looking down into the screen of a digital camera. The reason I was standing so close was also the reason my right eye wasn’t turned into mush. Because I was looking down I had no idea I was right behind the net and because I was looking down the edge of the puck caught me in the supraorbital foramen (which is a fancy name for the brow bone above the eye) rather than the soft jelly of my eyeball. The puck then tipped flat to compress the eye and cheek bone. The bones around the eye socket did what they were supposed to do which was to protect the eye as well as possible but it was a slap shot so I wasn’t getting away scot-free*.
At first I had no idea as to the severity of the injury. I just thought my eye was watering. It was the beginning of the season and that night the team was going to be voting for captain and assistant captain. We were also going to be handing out jerseys. I patiently explained this to my husband (who was coaching the team) and the other hockey mom who had gone with me to the bathroom (I don’t know why but for some reason my first thought after getting hit by a slap shot was that I needed to wash my hands). They both were equally insistent that I had to go to the hospital immediately. I hadn’t looked when I was in the bathroom so I had no idea how bad it was. It hadn’t even really started to hurt yet. I do have to commend that same mom who went to the bathroom with me for not missing a beat (I originally had written “batting an eye” here but I changed it because, well, hockey puck-eye, it seemed like too many eyes) when I asked her how it looked. The fact that she kept all expression from her face and calmly answered that it was probably for the best to have it looked at when she could actually see my skull gaping through the wound was admirable.
The hospital visit was quite an adventure but that’s a story all its own. I’ll save that for another time. The short version was they stitched up the wound and sent me home. I have a scar conveniently located in my eyebrow that you can only see if I point it out and I lost a portion of the vision in that eye. I have a small blind spot. It is in the centre of vision for my right eye so I can’t use that eye to do anything you need central vision for. Additionally the muscle that dilates the pupil was damaged so it doesn’t work properly. It’s been years since the injury occurred and I still experience sharp stabbing pains or a dull aching throb that spreads through the right side of my face. The optometrist says the pain is caused by nerve damage and it’s not going to go away. He showed me a picture of the scar caused by the injury on the back of my eyeball (it was seriously cool to see but obviously I’d trade the “cool” for not having been so careless). Sometimes the pupil is round and sometimes it is oval in shape and it doesn’t react well to strong light. I experience bright flashes of lights or dark spots that move across my vision. My depth perception has been affected so I’ve had to relearn certain skills and practices. I know I’m lucky I didn’t lose the eye. I am extremely thankful for that but now I have to think twice about things I never gave even one thought to before. Applying make-up or putting in my contacts, driving, reading or watching television have all required adjustments.
One of the most problematic things for me as an artist is that for some reason the eye injury has changed the way I perceive colour values. I received treatment for my injury at the Ivey Eye Institute (eyes are what they do there) but they weren’t sure about that one. Also they were confused as to why I would read eye charts from right to left for the first couple of months after my accident. Personally I think it was a concussion which would also explain the forgetfulness and random fits of crying but I’m not a doctor (my former family doctor at the time was not the most attentive guy so who knows?). Anyhow the reading thing worked itself out but the colour thing didn’t. To be clear I can tell different colours apart. I am not colour blind. But say if there are different values of black, or blue, or even white which are close together, I have issues. The painting I am currently working on has made this more than apparent. The composition has sky and clouds that gradate in values that are for the most part very close. I’ve been trying to build up thin layers working from dark to light. I wanted to work with thin layers because I’d never used them before to create depth and I thought the technique would provide a balance of power and delicacy. It’s been an exercise in patience.
There have been some other things that have factored in. I’m working with acrylic paint and gel medium along with a retarder so I have to be careful with the ratio of pigment to additives. The painting is part of a series based on a single image so I have to keep my tendency to explore different directions in check as the piece progresses. It’s a big canvas with a lot of area to cover and despite the fact that I really enjoy the process there are days when it is difficult to stay on task. Normally when I encounter any kind of road block I find that music can help with the process. I purposely pick something to listen to that I last listened to when my work was going smoothly. It helps to bring me back to a state of mind that is engaged in the process. I will put a CD or a song on repeat and listen to it for hours and hours. My latest “go to” is Mahalia Jackson’s “His Eye is on The Sparrow”. Today though I had a bit of a freak out and all the Mahalia Jackson was not going to move me forward. It wasn’t the technique or the materials that caused my little mini meltdown; it was the fact that I could not “see” my way through the resolution of the composition.
The more I worked on the sky the flatter (as in one-dimensional) everything became. Layer after layer, the light seemed to fade back into the middle tones and the more I strove for definition the less I found. When you get to that point it’s usually best to walk away for a bit but to be honest I’ve been working on this piece, on and off, for a couple of months now. I’ve been doing some other stuff but this canvas is dominating my small work space and frankly I’m ready to see it done. There was also the very undeniable fact that my “wonky” eye simply wouldn’t allow me to move forward with the realization in the manner I wanted to. So I abandoned the plan and painted over a portion of the sky I had built up layer by layer. As I was doing it I was actually telling myself not to, to just leave it alone, that I was covering up a ton of work and I was going to be sorry.
At first I was sorry. I stood back and looked at it. Then I took a picture of it and looked at that. The repainted area was stark and not particularly well articulated but looking at the image captured by the camera I could “see” that it accomplished more for creating depth than all my multiple layers. There’s still a lot more work that needs to be done and I still might regret my choice but then again nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I used to get angry with myself every time I had to make some kind of change or compromise because it was my own carelessness that had served to make my life more complicated. Granted on the old bell curve I mentioned in the first paragraph my injury doesn’t rate up there with things like death or divorce but for me it has had a very significant impact on everything I do. We have a tendency to overlook how little is actually required to change the playing field. Like most people I could name at least a handful of other events in my life that have been tragically heart breaking so I can’t help but think how odd it is that such a small slip should be the thing that touches all areas of my life. The things I took as a given changed in the blink of an eye (and yes I did use the phrase “blink of an eye” here on purpose).
The doctors told me there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to develop cataracts because of the injury but I’ll cross that bridge if or when I come to it. If the choice I made with the canvas was a mistake, well I’ll deal with that too. You could quite correctly say that the painting and a possible eye surgery are not even close to the same thing but for me they are in the end about actions and consequences. I think the important thing with any of it is to not get stuck and to not be afraid. If you can, you’ve got to roll with changes. Who knows how it all will turn out?
Now if you want to see a picture of my eye or the painting I’ve referred to scroll past this little bit about “scot-free”. If I remember correctly the picture of my eye was taken about 10 days after I got hit so it was well on the way to healing but my whole face was still pretty swollen. Also the puck hit me so hard I ended up with a bit of a black eye on the other side as well. They shaved off part of my eyebrow, so they could stitch the wound, but it grew back just fine. I don’ t have a larger picture but I think you can still get the general idea even at a low resolution.
* I just looked up he meaning of “scot free” as I had no idea of the origin of the term.
‘Scot’ as a term for tax has been used since then in various forms – Church scot, Rome scot, Soul scot and so on. Whatever the tax, the phrase ‘getting off scot free’ simply refers to not paying one’s taxes.
No one likes paying tax and people have been getting off scot free since at least the 11th century. The first reference in print to ‘scot free’ is in the Writ of Edward the Confessor. We don’t have a precise date for the writ but Edward died in 1066, which is a long time before Dred Scott.
The use of the figurative version of the phrase, that is, one where no actual scot tax was paid but in which someone escapes custody, began in the 16th century, as in this example from John Maplet’s natural history Green Forest, 1567:
“Daniell scaped scotchfree by Gods prouidence.”
‘Scotchfree’ was a variant based on a mishearing. An example of the currently used form, that is, ‘scot free’, comes a few years later, in Robert Greene’s The Historie of Dorastus and Fawnia, 1588:
These and the like considerations something daunted Pandosto his courage, so that hee was content rather to put up a manifest injurie with peace, then hunt after revenge, dishonor and losse; determining since Egistus had escaped scot-free.