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My name is Amy Oestreicher, and according to doctors, I am a “surgical disaster.”

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However, at 28, I feel truly blessed. I may not have a stomach, but I sure am hungry for life.

 

It started in 2005—a week before my senior prom. It was our second night of Passover, and my stomach started hurting. My dad said it might be gas, but he took me to the ER for an x-ray, just in case. On the way there, my cheeks actually puffed up, soon after, I collapsed, and I woke up from my coma months later.

Apparently, there was a blood clot on the mesenteric artery that caused a thrombosis, and when they cut into me, my stomach actually burst to the top of the OR. Both of my lungs collapsed, I went into sepsis shock, and I needed 122 units of blood to keep me alive.

That same night, the doctors shook my parents, and told them that their 18-year-old daughter would not survive the night.

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But I did.  And the next night. And the night after that.

When I finally awoke from my coma months later, the doctors finally told me what was going on. I had no stomach anymore, I couldn’t eat or drink, and it was not known when or if I would ever be able to again.

What do you say to that?

I was shocked. I had been too sleepy to be hungry, but now that I knew what the real circumstances were, I was devastated. I was confused, like I had woken up in someone else’s life.

Where was I?

Who was I?

Home-Sweet-Home

I remember I was once so desperate for answers that I googled “How do I find myself?”

Part of me wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear, part of me wanted to throw something. I was frustrated. I had just gotten my college acceptance letters.

Was I the victim of some cruel joke?

One day, I picked up a paintbrush.  And my world changed. I had found a way to express things that were too complicated, painful, and overwhelming to put into words.

Suddenly, when the uncertainty around me seemed frighteningly unmanageable, the strokes of my paintbrush could soothe me as I created a peaceful world that my soul longed to rest in as a place of peaceful solace. My passion could ignite instead of my anger and despair.

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And slowly, the good feelings overwhelmed the bad because I could control the positive world portrayed on my canvases with what my subconscious chose to create.  And I still believe that attitude is everything.

You don’t need to be an “artist” to make art—all you need to do is start somewhere.

Art doesn’t have to be “good”, it just has to be “real.” What draws me back again and again to my paintbrush is that when I hold it in my hands, no one can judge me—all that matters is what I’m feeling inside. Through painting, I’ve discovered feelings I’ve suppressed that I had never even anticipated.

Every day I come to my painting, I may be feeling something different. I could paint the most joyful expression in the world, or just a giant tear drop— but every time, I always walk away feeling better. I’ve realized what I was feeling and I’d rather feel everything than nothing at all.

Creativity became my lifeline. When I wanted to keep my mind and heart numb to not deal with difficult circumstances, art could help me unlock those feelings and truly express myself.

Who knew that art would make my medical trauma become the most amazing adventure and lesson of my life?

Art helped me process what I was feeling.  But most importantly, art served to be the greatest reward, acting as a medium where I could still engage with my community, reach out to others, and make a difference in this world while utilizing my passion. Arts were my way of connecting with the world, sharing my story, and spreading my message of hope, strength, and finding beauty in whatever life brings you.

My art may be self-taught, but it is personal, uniquely me, and a mosaic of what I have been through.

As a child, the arts were my passion and identity. When my traumas occurred, they became my lifeline.

Now that I am out of my medical crisis and into a life of health and vitality once again, the arts are how I can reconnect with the world, make a difference, and raise awareness—awareness of the power of one’s internal resources, awareness that there are many ways to heal externally and internally, and awareness of the human potential and spirit.

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An awareness of gratitude—that every day and moment should be celebrated—that life is a canvas, an open score, a bare stage, waiting for us to join the dance!

I found art accidentally on my way to healing physically, emotionally, and spiritually and have learned that it is one of the most rewarding, forgiving, beautiful ways to find my way through the darkness and into the light.

I may have found it accidentally, but because of art, I have found myself again. Although left with a few scars, I am long past my bleak days in the hospital.

Perfectly-Seasoned

With, my wonderfully supportive family, my passion, and a paintbrush, I was able to keep my soul alive for that uncertain time in my life. Life may not always be predictable, but art can always find the beauty in the detours.

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Written for The 296 Project and Some Talk of You & Me
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“At The 296 Project our mission is to promote, fund, and support Art and Expressive Therapies (painting, ceramics, writing, music, etc) as a viable way to heal from trauma or traumatic brain injury.
Through innovative and effective programming, we are able to offer active duty and veteran service members, their spouses*, and child dependents, every necessary tool for success – entirely free of charge.”

How Creativity Saved My Life

 

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