THE PAIN PROJECT

MARCH 2015

The Pain Project revisits eight physical injuries and is meant as an exploration of where pain is held in the physical body and how it changes with time. Each piece was made by applying paint to paper using the affected body parts.

3rd Metacarpal of Left Hand, 44x36, tempera paint on paper

Broken 3rd Metacarpal of Lett Hand: When I was in 3rd grade I broke the 3rd metacarpal on my left hand doing a back-handspring on the trampoline at The Nittany Gymnastics School in State College, PA. Initially I thought that I had just cracked my knuckle in a painful way but later that day when I was asked by my instructor to do a glide kip on the bars I noticed that there was a sharp pain in my hand. My instructor assumed that I was lying in order to get out of class. I felt conflicted by her accusation, so I tried to swing from the bars again but it was still painful. Was I imagining it? Maybe I just hated doing gymnastics? I began to question my perception of pain within my physical body, I couldn’t tell if I was hurt. That night I told my Mom that I thought I had hurt my hand. She said she would take me to have an x-ray in the morning, but my Dad told her it was not broken, there wasn’t enough swelling, to leave me alone and it would be fine. They fought about it but she took me anyway and it turned out to be broken. They wrapped it up with a plaster cast.

Frontalis Bone, 44x36, tempera paint on paper

Multiple Concussions: Due to skateboarding and snowboarding I have been knocked unconscious several times. Once I hung up and fell to my head on a mini-ramp and was knocked out for several seconds. When I opened my eyes a man who was there said “Don’t move, I’m going to get your Dad.” I didn’t move. When the man came back he said, “Your Dad says to get up, that you’ll be fine.” The first time I dropped in on a vert ramp everyone told me, “Make sure you lean forward!” I dove from the top of the 12 foot ramp to the bottom, landing head first. I felt dizzy and was giddy but thought it would be a good idea if I tried again. Everyone was yelling “just sit down, don’t get up!” I tried again. On the way home I felt nauseous, my friend had to drive, I threw up on the side of the road. The worst time was when I dropped in on an 7 foot quarter pipe that went onto an asphalt street course. My wheel ran into a piece of gravel and it caused my board to stop rolling, I fell right onto the front of my head. Right in my hairline, directly above my right eye, a large lump instantly grew straight out of my skull, like when cartoon characters get hit with a bat. I had a lump that was as tall as a spool of thread sticking straight out of my head, like a horn! I couldn’t stop laughing, time was distorted, I was delirious. The person I was with took me to the E.R. I had a concussion, they said to wake me up every two hours. The lump turned to dark colors, and then eventually drained into both my eye sockets. I had two black eyes, like a raccoon. I was in Art school at the time, my painting teacher took me aside and asked if I was experiencing domestic violence, he was convinced that my boyfriend was beating me, I couldn’t stop laughing. My skull is indented in that spot. To this day If I touch it with my finger my heart starts racing and my throat clenches shut and it becomes hard to breath. 

Right Hip, 44x36, tempera paint on paper

Multiple contusions on right thigh, inferior lateral aspect of the greater trochanter of femur: At age 14 I was doing a balance beam trick called a Gainer Layout Step, where you sort of fling yourself up in the air and do a no-handed flip and land on one foot. I missed my landing foot and landed on the lateral aspect of my thigh resulting in a giant black and blue mark. Shortly after that I was required to have a physical for school, the nurses saw my bruises and asked if I “had a happy home life.” They sent me to the school counselor who asked me if I drank or used drugs or if I had been exposed to domestic violence. She didn’t believe my answer, that I had “fallen off a balance beam.” Many years later, I was doing a 50/50 grind around a bowl corner on my skateboard, and when I went to go back in my back trucks hung up on the coping, causing me to slam into the bottom of the 5 foot deep bowl with full force, directly onto my right hip. It swelled up instantly, looking like an enormous raspberry scone stuck to my thigh. Blood and yellow fluid began to push out of my pores and flow down my leg. I’d wake up with the bed sheets stuck to my thigh each night, eventually there was a scab the size of my entire hand. My thigh was swollen fat and wiggly like it was full of jello. I couldn’t put on pants and had to wear skirts for weeks, I had an unbelievably huge and disgusting scabby, black-and-blue thigh. To this day, over 20 years later, I still have a lump of scar tissue the size of a small lemon inside  my lateral thigh. It is still surprisingly painful to touch. I call it my “perma-bruise.”

Lateral Malleolus of Right Fibula, 44x36, tempera paint on paper

Undiscovered Broken Lateral Malleolus of the Right Fibula: I had sprained my right ankle several times doing gymnastics, it usually took 3-4 week to feel completely better. The usual protocol involved sticking my foot in a bucket of ice water several times a day, continuing to try to walk on it so that I wouldn’t loose mobility, and wrapping it tightly with athletic tape so that I could get back to training as soon as possible. I had been through this injury several times. When I was 15 I took up skateboarding instead of gymnastics. One time I dropped in off of a ledge that went to a bank and my front right foot rolled under. I wound up landing on top of my crumpled foot with all of my weight from several feet in the air. It was so painful, I was frozen and unable to make a sound or move. Nobody in the crowded building recognized that I was injured. I slowly and quietly moved myself across the concrete floor toward the exit and crawled on one knee with my ankle in the air, very delicately and smoothly, down the hill to where the athletic trainers were. They looked at my ankle and said I would need to get an x-ray, then I was given a ride home. I called my Dad, who said “No, you don’t need an x-ray, it’s probably just a bad sprain, just ice it.” 4 weeks had gone by and I was still not able to put much weight on my foot. I kept trying to walk normally, and just wrapped it up tightly with athletic tape. It was over 2 months before I could walk without pain. My boss and other people implied that I was faking an injury for special attention, so I made a point to conceal my pain. When I was 36 I sprained my ankle again while bouldering. I had it x-rayed and they said, “It’s not broken now, but we can see where it has been broken previously in several places.” My ankle has never recovered from this, it is extremely sensitive and I can’t allow anything to touch it, the lightest tap makes me yelp. Dragging it across the paper for this project was excruciating, I almost cried. This injury is 18 years old and has not left my body yet.

Occipital Bone, 44x36, tempera paint on paper

Bad Neck Injury: I’m not sure what happened to my neck. I over-rotated a double back flip on the trampoline and was about to land on the back of my head. My friend dove toward me to stop my rotation before I landed but his fist wound up right in the back of my neck when I landed with my feet crumpling over the top of my body. My entire head and neck were tingling and making crackling sounds, it felt like fluid had been blasted up my nose. I crawled off the trampoline and took myself home. I took some Advil, put a bag of frozen peas on my neck and tried to sleep. I couldn't move for days, the phone had been ringing but I couldn't get to it. I finally crawled to the kitchen 2 days later to eat, but wound up on the floor in pain. I made an appointment with a chiropractor but he needed to see an x-ray. I didn't have insurance so I just waited for it to get better. I have a lump the size of a walnut at base of my occipital bone on my right side. It hasn’t gone away yet, sometimes I have sharp, shooting pains if I turn my head a certain way. 

Contusions on Lungs, 44x36, tempera paint on paper

Contusions on Lungs, Cracked Tooth: When I was 16 I was snowboarding on an icy slope with my friend. Something happened and I wound up in the air face-first and landed on my chest and face. I knocked the wind out of myself and banged the front of my face and head onto the ice. I started laughing really hard, blood gurgled up from my throat and sprayed onto the snow, then I spat a tooth into my mitten, I couldn’t stop laughing. My friend asked if I was okay and I couldn’t stop laughing, I said that I was okay, but he took me to the hospital. They x-rayed my lungs because of the blood coming out of my throat, it had a contusion. The next day I went to the dentist and he made me a new tooth out of putty, I still have it.

Lateral Deltoid 44x36, tempera paint on paper

Separated Right Shoulder: When I was 16 I was skateboarding on a 5 foot mini ramp inside of a metal building near my home. My back trucks hung up on the coping and I fell to the flat bottom landing on my shoulder. I tried to leave the building but couldn't open the door because I needed to hold my right arm onto my body with my left arm. I tried for a while to open the door with my foot, or to unlatch and slide the barn doors open with my legs. Eventually I managed to open the door and walked home. My parents were upset with me for being late for dinner. My Dad gave me a sling for my arm, and we tied my arm to my torso for several days until it tightened back onto my body.

Sacrum / Coccyx, 44x36, tempera paint on paper

Possible broken or subluxed coccyx or sacrum: My skateboard slid out from under me and I landed on my tail bone on a metal pipe. I was able to get home and go to bed. In the morning I was in so much pain, I couldn't stand upright. I walked slowly, bent over all the way, to the bathroom, then back to my bed. My parents didn’t know I was hurt. They kept yelling for me to “Make sure you don’t miss dinner at camp, we don’t have any food at the house!” I couldn’t get out of bed, I was so hungry. I never saw a doctor.

N I N A  A. I S A B E L L E 

© Nina A. Isabelle 2018