Sunday, February 13, 2011

Medical Illustration

On Father’s Day, 1990, I had a spectacular ladder accident in Sacramento, shattering my left heel. An orthopedic surgeon told me that his only recourse was to perform a common medical procedure: fusing the damaged bone to the ankle. As a result, my left foot would neither flex nor move laterally ever again. In addition to having a permanent Frankenstein limp, my sign painting career was about to be limited to in-house production (which by that year had been completely subsumed by computer vinyl technology). The cynical sawbones told me that I’d better inherit some money. My resourceful wife was able to find a brilliant young surgeon, Dr. George Lian, who was performing a new type of surgery. Using bone material from the hip, the ruined heel could be reconstructed. Then with stainless steel pins, it could be attached to the tibia, the workhorse bone of the lower leg. With prolonged physical therapy, it would be possible to regain near-normal traction.
  Over the long course of healing, I became friends with George and he enlisted me to illustrate his book on sports medicine. These are some of the drawings I did under his watchful eye. He patiently vetted me on the highly abstract shaping of the bones and muscles. An early visit to an actual operation (in full surgical mufti) didn’t help the project much, as there was too much blood and I had no idea what I should be observing. But it was neat to see that doctors working so efficiently under great time pressure with Steppenwolf cranked up. Sometimes they used fake German accents: “Ze schalpel, schnell!” said Chief Surgeon George.  He explained later that a bit of levity cuts the tension.