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    BWS Stories - "Go Your Own Way": Discovering Midlife Passions

    "Go Your Own Way": Discovering Midlife Passions - How a Taxi Accident Saved My Life

    Deb Eiseman taught herself how to paint after a taxicab accident left her in severe chronic pain. She healed herself through painting and now pursues her art full time. Deb's designs can be found on greeting cards, journals, magnets, t-shirts, quilts and watches. To see Deb’s art, visit:

    How a Taxi Accident Saved My Life

    On September 6, 1998 I was headed to Bloomingdale’s to buy a friend a baby gift when, in what could have been the opening scene of a movie I would have covered in my job as a TV entertainment-news producer, my taxicab collided with another. I was hurled forward, whipped back and whacked against something (the plastic partition? the window?). My head and neck hurt immediately; within hours the pain radiated out to my arms, hands and fingers and down both legs into my feet. The diagnosis included cervical radiculopathy (bulging and herniated disks in the neck and back that pinched the nerves), sciatica (a pinched upper buttock nerve) and piriformus syndrome (don’t ask!) Translation: mind-numbing, head-to-toe, 24 hour pain.

    Overnight, my life was full of healers; a GP, a neurologist, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, a physical therapist and a podiatrist. As I dragged myself from one waiting room to the next, I realized what chronic pain does to your life: It hijacks it. Before the accident, I did Pilates and yoga and rode a bike. Now sitting hurt. Standing hurt. Doing nothing hurt. I was 36 but I felt 90. And my mind was affected. Like a crying infant, chronic pain demands 100 percent of your attention. I couldn’t enjoy a lovely day, laugh at a sitcom or gain a minute’s guilty pleasure from reading a gossip column.

    Nights were brutal. During sleep, blood flow decreases and less oxygen reaches muscles, so pain is heightened. I developed insomnia and, in an agonizing irony, my body was deprived of the very thing – deep, dreamless, stage-four sleep – necessary for it to produce growth hormones, which, in adults, repair fatigued muscles. Lonely and terrified, I sat in bed, sobbing. I had read about the “dark night of the soul.” Now I was living it.

    On one especially excruciating night about three months after the accident, I picked up the $2.98 paint kit I’d recently bought, after a friend suggested that I try to take my mind off my pain by developing a hobby. As I doodled on paper, my focus was siphoned from my throbbing body into other things: color, shape, texture. My breathing and heartbeat seemed to slow down. Three hours passed. When I put down my brush, I felt as though I had meditated. Night after night, at around 11 p.m. I began painting, something I hadn’t done since childhood. The whimsical, triumphant, hopeful images I was making were the opposite of how I felt physically.

    I had begun seeing a physiatrist (a rehabilitative-medicine doctor), Roberta Shapiro, D.O., who specialized in pain management. She gave me intramuscular injections of anesthesia that made me feel better. She also said that the act of painting did as much physiological good as the shots did. Why? I was doing something pleasurable, which prompted the release of endorphins (the hormones that diminish our perception of pain) and allowed more serotonin (the hormone that diminishes pain itself) to remain circulating in my system.

    But it was exercising the fine muscles in my forearms and hands that was key. I developed strength in my fingers that helped me stabilize debilitated areas in my arms, shoulders and neck. In a sense, Dr. Shapiro said, I had treated myself. (Other female chronic-pain sufferers have turned to jewelry making for the same instinctive reason.)

    Today, art is my career. My Moonlight Creations by Deb designs are on cards and T-shirts. Soon they’ll be available on needlepoint canvases, and possibly later on bedding, wallpaper and apparel. I’ve unearthed a talent I never knew I had, and I found an amazing silver lining in the darkest cloud I ever encountered. My pain is still with me, but I’ve learned to control it. That taxi collision two years ago? Now I look back on it and say: In life there are no accidents.

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