their work and words, interviews, blogs, images, hints, tips, websites
and more...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

my medical journalling : Alissa Duke

I carry my Moleskine sketchbook, watercolour pencils and Safari Lamy Joy ink pen with me everyday. I try and draw everyday – foods, places, events, sometimes people (must practice more), sketching my life around me, as well as various online drawing challenges, filling 20 sketchbooks in the last 3 years.

Part of my “everyday” in 2011 involved what I can now refer to as my little medical adventure. I know that I am very fortunate as I can look back now as it is over, and I am well (apart from now having to take lots of tablets and slightly changing a few things in life and a new short haircut). In March 2011 I was diagnosed with a large benign brain tumour that required immediate removal and I spent about two and a half months in hospital in the ICU and Neurology wards after the initial surgery and subsequent operations due to major brain infections.

Enough medical stuff, this is about the drawing. Journaling in my sketchbook was part of that experience and I am sharing my drawing experience during that time on this blog.

I was asking for my pencils about six days after the initial surgery and had been mentally composing pages and deciding what would be good to draw before that ! This was a huge relief to me, my friends and family as this was a sign that I was ‘me’ again. The whole lead up to surgery had all happened so quickly that I did not have time to worry too much about anything specific, but I had a fear that I would lose my ability to draw, or just as bad, the motivation to draw. I know that there were much worse things than this that could have happened, but my mind had not yet gone in that direction.

I sketched over 85 pages during the time in hospital and the majority are up on my flickr site http://www.flickr.com/photos/alissaduke/sets/72157626495626536/

There were stops and starts along the way as my recovery got better and then had a few major set-backs. Looking back, I wish that I had drawn more hospital equipment (there was so much of it around me) , made more notes and comments and shared my sketches more with the hospital staff. I had a habit of putting my pencils and sketchbook away when they turned up (which was often !!) I am still shy at times about showing my work to people. The ICU staff were delighted at the Thank You card I sent them with a drawing of “wiggling my toes” (a bit a mantra in hospital departments)

There was certainly never “nothing to do or draw” in hospital and I was fortunate enough to have the strength to draw and mobility to prop myself up in bed and use of my hands. I know everyone is not this fortunate. My sketchbooks and drawings did distract me from the many scary and unknowns of hospital (this was my first encounter with hospitals, at the age of 43) . But I did not draw to distract myself. Drawing did provide me with a sense of contented familiarity – something from the ‘outside world’ of my normal life. I also think that it allowed me to maintain my personality and individuality at a time when everything is taken away from you. Basically, it was a joy just to be able to draw anything. And so I did !! I never thought of whether a drawing was good or bad, (although I was pleased when my attention to details/colours to objects gradually returned).

However drawing did provide a sense of detachment in a foreign environment and it was very surreal to draw tubes, lines coming out of my arm etc. But I also drew my food, toothbrush, room, objects and medicines,. I am actually surprised I did not draw much food at all, considering how much I normally draw it in my sketchbook. I think that I was so eager to eat the food in hospital as meal times became important in the daily routine. The lovely gifts from friends and family did provide a delightful change of subjects. I am also amazed that my lovely supportive sketching friends Liz (Borromini Bear) , Wendy (QuirkyArtist) and Annie and I did not sketch when they visited, but we chatted instead

Looking back now I am so pleased that I sketched during that time and during my recovery back home. When I want I can look back through my sketchbook and remember some of the little things that would normally be forgotten. I have only just seen photos of myself during that time and very recently drew from a few of those to capture what I looked like at the time. That was not easy to do and I probably should have waited a bit longer. But my pencils and my sketchbooks provided me with a great source of happiness in a not-so-great time in life. I hope this has provided you with some insight into my medical journalling experience.


  1. Alissa,
    I'm so sorry to hear of your medical troubles, but delighted to see your sketchbook, and thrilled to know you are now great!! I'm sure that your love of drawing was a part, maybe a large part of your quick recovery.

  2. Alissa, I am so grateful to you for sharing this with us. This is one of the most important things that our journals can do for us...help us through frightening times, give us a sense of normalcy, give us back to ourselves. Your courage and honesty are like a beacon, lighting our way!

    And I am SO glad you are all right.

  3. Wow, Alissa, you humble me. I am so glad to hear that you are recovering well and that you feel like the "before surgery" you in terms of your drawing skills and motivation.

    Thank you so much for sharing this very personal time with us.


  4. I knew you were back to your old self when I saw your wonderful Christmas present fungus drawing on the Sketching in Nature blog, Alissia. :)
    Happy New Year and thank you and congratulations for this brave and important post.

  5. What an incredible journey! And to have been able to capture it in your journal is amazing. I went through a major medical journey many, many years ago and so wish I had drawn as you did, but it was back in the day before I journaled. So many details have become lost or blurred.

    Whereas I don't think you'll ever look back on this time with fondness, I do think you'll be even more glad as the years roll by that you journaled the story. Thank you for sharing. As Vicki mentions, it is quite humbling.

    Sooooo glad you're recovering and your essence, while changed, is still the wonderful you!

  6. Goodness, Alissa! What a journey you have been on! I am so thankful that you are now on "the other side" of it, and that you are sharing it with all of us.

    Continued blessings of health and healing to you!

  7. love and light to you! thank you for sharing your art through this journey!

  8. a great post Alissa!!!! So glad you shared this with every one else.

  9. Alissa, such an important gift you have given yourself and all of us. You have shown the incredible therapeutic value of sketching and journaling through illness and rough times, and shared the comfort and sanity that it brings to us when we dare venture into scary territory. I kept a scant journal through a recovery from surgery a decade ago, but wished I had done so much more. It's something I strongly encourage any friend going through surgery to do now. Thank you for your post and so glad you are through this life crisis and get to journal about lighter things! You are such an amazing inspiration.

  10. So glad to see that this is behind you and thank you for sharing your journaling experience with us. Sometimes our journals are like BFFs! God Bless.

  11. Thank you all very much for your thoughts and words of support. It is truly moving to read them. Writing this page and sharing my journalling and the insight behind it was a very good experience for me too. It helped me to clarify where my art was in my life, and where it is now.I know now that is part of me and without it , I would not be me. Laure, I think you said the right word when you said "the essence"of me is back! That is it !
    and Robyn - you have also put into words some of my swirling thoughts. The fungi drawing I did at Christmas is me returning back one of my old styles (I have a few) - the impression of detail (without doing much detail).
    Medical and health journalling can (understandably) be very personal, but I hope that mine was more sketching my life around me , as it was at the time.....

  12. Alissa, thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm so glad that you are well on the road to a full recovery. What an ordeal but how inspiring that you were able to sketch your experience in hospital and that it helped you to cope. They do say art is great therapy.

    All the best for the year ahead!

  13. You are a remarkable lady Alissa. Your experience and how you dealt with it, is truly inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Alissa, Thank you for your honest, personal, and emotinal sketches. Your words and images give us all reasons to be grateful and strong in our daily trials and journeys.

    Keep up the great work!

  15. What an amazing way to deal with a medical emergency like this! It seems to have been both healing and grounding to have your best friend, your sketchbook with you as you went through this.

  16. You are an amazing woman! I'm so glad that you've come through this bump in the road of life with flying colors. Thanks for sharing your experience and your beautiful sketches. You are an inspiration!

  17. Allissa, Oh the journey you have been on. So happy to see you on a lighter and brighter side. Your post is priceless as your spirit. Thank you for sharing, your strength and example of how journaling helps us up the mountains in life.
    Go girl!

  18. Alissa, I admire your courage, strength and dedication. Thank you for sharing this experience, it is truly inspiring.

  19. Lovely and touching post. It's a long time to be spending in hospital and I am glad you found something so wonderful and beautiful to do while you're there. I want to say it's inspiring that if I ever have to go through the same thing, I'd carry my Moleskine, maybe more than just one with me, and sketch all I could see. I know I shouldn't even say this but I actually love food at the hospital. The longest I had to stay in hospital for a minor surgery was 2 counts of 2 weeks stays. Those 4 weeks I enjoyed every single meal, everyday =)
    Anyway, love your sketches as always, and hope that you're feeling all better.


We'd love your feedback...please share your thoughts!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...