Sunday, March 6, 2016

elliott’s big beautiful head: an x-ray art extravaganza

As the vet pulled the lot of three x-rays out of the big brown envelope I told him I was going to try to take pictures of each. He slapped the first two up on the light box and said wait, the best is yet to come.

Well, I hope so. As interesting as they are, these first two are not that exciting, and, in practical terms, they don’t show much: they don’t show why Elliott has been sneezing for several months with occasional dramatic, spraying nosebleeds. The vet slapped the third x-ray onto the light box.

Oh my. There is Elliott’s big, beautiful brain and everything else, including, as the vet explained, a clear view of Elliott’s problem: a swollen right nasal passage. “Rhinitis.”

“It's beautiful,” I said. I felt I could stare at the image for days, and I have, and it has stared back.

These x-rays were, perhaps, unnecessary. Once the vet knocked Elliott out and looked up his nose, it was clear that the right nasal passage was swollen and inflamed. We could have stopped there, said OK, infection, now what. But x-rays assure us there is nothing else there, well, nothing bad, anyway, like a big bad tumor or a mess of worms. I figured it was worth it to know that, and I thought maybe the images would be interesting. But I never thought they would be downright beautiful. And so much fun.

I thought briefly of starting a line of greeting cards: Skeletal Greetings, The Bones of Any Good Relationship. Or a typed-by-hand book with printed pictures: Elliott’s X-rays.

Anyway, Elliott is now on a twice-a-day 30-day antibiotic regimen coupled with, for a while, an anti-inflammatory. He has been subdued since arriving home from the vet Tuesday afternoon and, oddly enough, not sneezing much. I have been sneezing a lot. I go through spells of massive sneezing, no other symptoms, don’t think much about it. But Elliott thinks I should go to the doc, have my head examined.

I googled “x-ray art” and found links to flowers, a man with emphysema, Hugh Turvey, and more. But, all good things must come to an end. No, wait—that sounds like something my mom would say! Maybe we have time for a short documentary. It’s kind of like being in science class with that quirky teacher who all of a sudden flashes really cool pictures on the screen. Late in 1895 …

“It seems both incredible and paradoxical that the rays which are themselves invisible can reveal objects which are otherwise also invisible, but that is exactly what x-rays can do,” Dr. Coolidge says.
I think we have time for one last picture.

It’s such a fascinating world in there.


  1. Oh, you are so funny.... The original x-ray is indeed beautiful. Print it on a t-shirt? And, what you did with it... hilarious.

    A friend of mine, Sarah Rousch, died of cancer several years ago. Most of her artistic life was dedicated to ceramics and watercolors, but for the last few, she also made art from her x-rays. They are here:

    I just wish the images were bigger. There is another page of unframed x-ray work, too, so look around. Two buildings downtown are covered with her ceramic tiles. She lives on!

    1. Wow -- Sarah's work is really interesting. The unframed collage images are a bit bigger, but I think overall they would simply be best in person. Loved the ceramics! If I ever get to Paducah, I've got buildings to see ...