Sheets of Light
The Nerve: A Col-aberration at the Harwood Art Center
By Steven Robert Allen
Lisa Gill strikes me as a woman who can't help but see the world through a poet's eyes. In the wrong circumstances, this might be a curse. Given the ordeal Gill has undergone over the past couple years, though, her special perspective is an enormous blessing, both for herself and those around her.
Back in 2003, Gill relocated to a house near Moriarty. Eager to explore the ranchland that surrounds her new home, she began hiking six miles a day. With summer came the monsoons, and with the monsoons came lightning.
On a momentous day in August of that year, while Gill sat inside her home, a blast of sheet lightning cracked around her. "I got a horrible electrical sensation in my hands that was quite painful," she says. "It eventually spread up to my biceps."
Gill believed she'd been struck by lightning. Given her poetic temperament, she initially thought this was just about as cool as it comes. "I thought I'd encountered nature and lived to tell about it," she says.
Unfortunately, after a week, when her hands were just starting to feel better, the soles of her feet began to go numb. "I thought I'd overdone hiking," says Gill. "Pins and needles spread up my legs and hips over the next couple weeks."
When she began to lose sensation in her legs, she knew something was horribly wrong. She went to the ER to get an exam, but no one seemed to take her seriously. The doctors simply suggested that she eat some mandarin oranges to get her blood sugar up.
Gill knew she had some kind of neurological problem. She'd gone from hiking six miles a day to struggling to get across her kitchen. She was falling a lot, and she was extremely weak. Based on her own research, she suspected that if she got an MRI, the doctors would detect lesions in her brain and diagnose her with multiple sclerosis (MS), but she just couldn't get the damned MRI. "I was sitting at home thinking too much," she says.
Gill soon hatched a plan to pretend that if she didn't get an MRI, she would get a shotgun and start shooting up the clinic until she got the treatment she needed. She only put this plan into action as a last resort after polite entreaties for help went unheeded.
"I'm actually very nonviolent," Gill says, laughing. "The irony is that I've had neurological episodes since I was about 17, and people always wrote me off as bipolar and crazy. It finally worked to my advantage. I don't think anyone really believed me, but they did lock me up, and I finally got the MRI."
As suspected, a lesion was detected, and Gill, who is currently 35 years old, was diagnosed with MS. "They started me on steroids immediately."
This was devastating, of course, but under treatment Gill got her life back under control. She can now hike again, and she'll be doing the MS Walk on April 16 at Albuquerque Academy. (For more information about this event, call 1(800) FIGHT MS, opt. 2, or log onto www.nationalmssociety.org/nmx).
Gill has used her considerable creative talents to help her navigate through this troubling time in her life. Her doctors require her to do daily injections to prevent MS flares. Eventually, she began filling her syringes with ink and watercolors, and using them to paint. She also wrote a chapbook of moving poems inspired by her experience.
Gill is collaborating with sculptor Kris Mills on a new art and poetry show opening this Friday at the Harwood Art Center. "I'm so excited about this," she says. "I saw this exhibit Kris did that included a sequence of hands distorted by rheumatoid arthritis, and I was so touched by it. I thought, ’Here's an artist who can make what I feel.'"
The pair began a yearlong collaboration that will culminate in this show. At the opening reception, Gill will read some poems accompanied by Kurt Heyl on trombone. She will then do some live syringe paintings. The multimedia exhibit will include everything from Mills' steel sculptures to Gill's digitally altered MRIs of her own brain.
Gill isn't quite sure how people will react to their "col-aberration," as they call it, but she hopes it will bring attention to MS and some of the dilemmas associated with it. "I want people to know that there's a shortage of neurologists in New Mexico," she says. "And also that if I'd known about the MS Society, I could have called them and perhaps gotten help figuring out how to get through the diagnosis process, instead of resorting to my sort of last ditch technique."
Thankfully, Gill's quite happy with her current doctors. On days when she has an exam scheduled, she happily leaves her shotgun at home in the closet.
The Nerve: A Col-aberration, a poetry and art event with Lisa Gill and Kris Mills, occurs Friday, April 8, from 5 to 8:30 p.m. at the Harwood Art Center. 242-6367.
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