Self-Portrait With Burst Appendix

These photographs were taken two days before the crash. The appendix burst exactly two days after this nature-morte with crushed pomegranate, on August 11, 2013. Looking at it now I think of Sherlock Holmes, of all things, and his unparalleled powers of perception. I wonder if, like him, I had already collected all the clues that pointed to the grim series of events on the horizon. Only, unlike Sherlock, my observations remained buried deep in my subconscious. Until that late Sunday afternoon.

I had been preparing this setting for weeks for a less than grateful client that didn’t even bother to officially cancel. Instead of getting mad, I got even and made a self-portrait out of it. Examining the initial results, I found it all to be a bit on the grey side. Very monotone. It needed a kick, a detail. Something. But what?

I had recently watched Paradjanov’s masterpiece ‘The Color of Pomegranates’. The imagery of pomegranate juice seeping like blood into a white cloth really appealed to me for some reason. At the time, I didn’t ask why. I just got the fruit, mashed it into the white bed sheet I used as table cloth, took the shots and called it a day. Oh, let’s not forget the skull ring. Also, inexplicably, an essential addition to the still life. It was Friday afternoon.

On Sunday afternoon my 4 year old daughter complained of pain in her lower abdomen. I didn’t make much of it at first. She had vomited the night before, but that was nothing new. Kids did that some times, and got over it the next day. I thought this would be one of those times. Instead, a few hours later, she decided to curl up on the floor. ‘I’m just gonna lie down for a while…’ Weird. That was the first warning sign.

So I did what every modern parent would do: I got online. Knowing absolutely nothing about appendicitis, it was still, very strangely, the first thing I looked up. The list of symptoms I promptly discovered, was the start of a slight neurosis in me that grew in size, culminating in utter despair and not really subsiding until four months later.

She got really sick, really fast. First, there was an uneventful two hour stay at the ER, where they had more questions than answers. They kept her in ‘for observation’. But what they really meant was ‘for operation when the specialists get here.’ It was Sunday night and, apparently, no one around to perform an all decisive ultrasound.

Then came the brutal night at the hospital, where I watched her symptoms worsen, sponge in hand to wet her cracking lips, helpless before the mighty laws of the 9 to 5, waiting. When Monday morning finally broke, the long-awaited ultrasound confirmed what everyone had already suspected: Acute Appendicitis. Who was to blame? Save the finger pointing for later. Time for an emergency intervention. I left her on the operating table, naked in the cold of the air conditioner, exposed to four masked strangers. As she inhaled the anesthetic gas, she observed ‘It smells good…’, to the amusement of the curiously cool and collected masked strangers. With that she drifted off to sleep, and I was escorted out into my black hole.

What followed was a very long-winded and agonizing affair, which I dare to look back upon only as a series of superficial impressions. Doctors and nurses of all kinds and specialties, some more committed than others. Hospital beds with crisp white and blue sheets, changed almost daily. Infinite blood tests, needles, blood samples, more needles, injections. Wheelchair pushing in the long empty corridors, sparsely lit by indifferent fluorescent lights. Silence shuttered only by the occasional cry of pain from children in the neighboring room. My own anguished reflection in the faces of other parents, pacing in the hallways, shadows of their former selves. Ultrasounds in a cold room with an even colder gel: ‘stomach jam’. Check ups in the middle of the night. Trips to the toilet in the company of the omnipresent IV stand. Clinic clowns reeking of dope. Conflicting opinions, arguments. Reassurance followed by doubt and the other way around. The words ‘nearly fatal’ dropped casually by the head surgeon. Phone calls and visits from well wishers. Gifts next to blood stained bandages. Hours of inevitable uninspired children’s programming. No shoulders to cry on. No wisdom to borrow. And, maybe therefore, bewildered bead fondling, on both rosaries and malas. Anything. Anything to keep your sanity and live to tell the story.

Now, long after the storm, faced with these ‘before’ photographs, I’m reminded of the lessons taught by Sherlock. Without being aware of it, we perceive with all of our senses. We pick up clues, we feel the storm brewing, but we remain blind and deaf to the call of our primal instincts. We have forgotten what it means to really observe. We make seemingly random choices, like this bloody pomegranate mess, oblivious to their true meaning. We dare to face our demons only in dreams, but only under heavy symbolic disguises, behind the smoke and mirrors. But what if we could treat our subconscious like a scene of a crime and stay resolutely alert to all the clues it sends us? Would I have known better? Could I have spared my daughter some of the pain and suffering?

I’ll never know. All I know is that almost half a year after the fact, I still haven’t forgotten. I still receive medical bills, I still check her scars, I still drop inappropriate tears at random locations, surprising everyone including myself. I still panic when she holds on to her abdomen. I still watch her like a hound: her lymph nodes, her temperature, her dark circles. Did she eat enough… Did she run a little too slow… Is she looking a little too tired…

She has become my scene of a crime, a crime that I’m not meant to resolve, but that will tantalize me with its enigmas till the end of my days.


  • May 31, 2014

    Elisabeth Lembke

    I enjoyed reading every page of this beautiful website. ….I have a better word in Spanish: entrañable. I love the presentation and the whole idea and I’ll say it again, you have a talent for writing· Thanks for sharing another part of your life in this way:)

    • May 31, 2014


      Thank you, Eli. This kind of comment gives me strength, and inspires me to go on. And it will continue doing so every time I read it…