Our bodies are their own ecosystems, why not own it?

Borrowed imagery from the Center for Disease Control’s catalog of bugs & biopsies (all for use in the public domain), look like they come from another planet, but they are all to be found in, on or around the human body. We have our own clouds of microbes surrounding us, leaving a signature behind, everywhere we go. Our micro-biomes are affected by the biomes of others we spend time with, exchanging microbes, literally culturing friendships. According to a recent National Institutes of Health  estimate, 90% of cells in the human body are bacterial, fungal, or otherwise non-human.

Micro-bio pop quiz; which patterns are Strep, E.Coli, Fungal, Biopsies?

When I was six years old, I caught chicken pox. Shortly thereafter, I developed an invasive streptococcal infection called Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating disease) in the wrist of my left hand. Within days, it had come close to my heart, and there was no alternative but to flay the arm open to administer antibiotics directly. The surgeries necessary to repair the left arm afterward were traumatic but effective. I still suffer pain from scar tissue around that shoulder, but I’ve decided to treat it as psychosomatic instead of dwelling on it. The microbes that caused this were presumably living in on or around my body when this occurred.

When our bodies turn on us, the experience of being gravely ill can be maddening or cathartic, it’s all in how you choose to frame it. For me, it gave my lens a mythic quality, always to be explained through tall tales, foggy imagery and synchronicity. The National Library of Medicine says “there is more than 100 times greater risk of dying from a motor vehicle accident and at least a 50% greater risk of getting struck by lightning each year in North America than there is of coming down with flesh-eating disease.” So, I’m a one-in-a-million survivor of my body’s biome.

Maybe this is a part of the psychological driver behind wanting to understand microorganisms, bio-art, witch-doctoring. I know that my perceptions around these things are distorted, but for me it feels like an adaptation. A part of the healing process became drawing. Drawing with the good hand, hiding the bad hand. While it isn’t noticeable as an adult, kids noticed the difference, but artists don’t have to comply with pesky norms. Drawing maybe normalized or provided a cover for this and some other things, like red hair, that always made me stand out in a crowd. I guess I have my body to thank for becoming an artist, in a very literal way.

 

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