Most artists and writers encounter creative blocks, and there is a plethora of information on overcoming these. In the past, a call for submissions or an upcoming guild exhibition has usually sent me into a painting frenzy.
The last few months, however, have been very difficult, and until August 5, I had not painted anything since the guild’s spring show in April. On May 4, after months of worry over my mother’s financial situation and over the means of paying for the private care her social worker said she must have, as well as the emotional abuse and unethical behavior of a sibling, a judge appointed me private committee of my mother’s affairs. In other words, I was her guardian and in charge of her money and property. Now I could get the kind of loan that would enable her to stay in her home. That should have been the end of the financial elder abuse that had sent me to the Public Guardian for help. That should have been the end of all worry, of all strife.
But it wasn’t. The unethical behavior continued. My mother’s health and affairs, moreover, continued to take up a great deal of my time. She suffers from vascular dementia and now needs full-time care; however, she does not want to live in a care home. Because she lives twenty-three kilometers away, I spend a lot of time driving in heavy traffic, often gridlock. I do her shopping. None of this is fair to my husband, who, I feel, is sometimes neglected. He has had a quintuple bypass and his health is not robust. So I have been caught between my husband’s needs and the demands of my mother's care.
Since April, I have had all sorts of ideas for paintings and drawings, including a portrait of my husband eating chocolate cake (his favourite), and I had actually taken many photos of him but was never able to settle down and paint. The canvas stayed untouched. A painting of a pond that I had started early in April stood unfinished on one of my easels for most of the spring and summer. At the end of June, I had even ordered a large number of canvases, various kinds of acrylic mediums to experiment with, and some new types of paint, also to experiment with. They sat in my studio unused.
Then, on the morning of August 4, I suddenly felt very weak and could not stand up. Lying down, I realized my heart was pounding in a way that it had never done before. I was breathless. This was no panic attack. I could not control the pounding with breathing exercises or counting. It was terrifying. I thought I was having a heart attack, that I might die.
I called 911.
The paramedics said it was atrial fibrillation, and because my pulse was so rapid and my heart beat so irregular, they took me to Burnaby General’s ER. There the doctor diagnosed the problem as paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, and the problem resolved itself by mid-afternoon. However, the danger of this, the doctor said, is that it can lead to clotting in the atrium and, therefore, strokes. My mother has atrial fibrillation and she has had a number of strokes which have caused her vascular dementia. My younger sister had a stroke as well.
The day after this terrifying event, I felt that I had to begin the portrait. It now needs only a few finishing touches. The painting of the pond that had lain neglected most of the summer is completely finished, and now I have started the under-painting for another.
I would like to say that while lying in the ER hooked up to a ECG machine, with an IV in one arm, that I had an epiphany, that I thought of the manuscripts I had not finished, of the projects I had not started, of the changes I must make in my life, but that would not be true. Being in the ER as a patient, rather than as the caregiver in charge of the patient, was too novel, too disconcerting, even surreal.
When my husband and daughter-in-law arrived at the ER, they said, “We’ve been discussing your situation, and we think you need to change your life.” At that time, I was just grateful that the episode was over and that I could go home. The idea of a serious life change did not enter my mind.
Only in retrospect do I realize that this frightening experience reminded me of who I am and what I must do. I am an artist and a writer. Such a calling does not preclude looking after others, but at the same time, one must heed the call.