The Power of Painting My Casts as a Person With Chronic Diseases

Katie Taaffe
Katie wearing two painted leg casts.
Katie wearing two painted leg casts.

I started painting my casts as a way to take back control of my diseases and do things my way in a world where my diseases often dictate most everything for me.

I’ve had 36 hard casts, not including soft casts, post-surgical casts or braces. It’s an interesting life for sure. With a mixture of osteoporosis, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and injuries related to other illnesses, I am extremely fragile and unfortunately very prone to orthopedic injuries. I’ve torn a tendon and broken bones by simply walking. I honestly never thought I’d get to this point, but my doctors aren’t even sure of exactly how many bones I have broken because they fracture so easily that I don’t even notice anymore. And we only “count” major bones (no ribs, fingers, toes, noses, etc. make it into the tally).

Decorated casts
Decorated casts

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I realized if I have to wear casts, I might as well have a little fun doing it! Which is a tad bit outside of my comfort zone, I must admit. I’m the kind of girl who likes to blend in, who likes to shy back into the corner of a crowded room and never speak unless spoken to first.

Most of my life is spent with at least one extremity in a cast. This means most of my life is out of my control and spent with people staring at me for looking different and having something “wrong with me.”

Painting my casts takes those two negative concepts and makes the experience and therefore my entire life a little more positive. And honestly hopefully a little more positive for anyone who sees me with walking artwork.

Purple painted cast.
Purple painted cast.

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By the time I got to cast number 19, I’d learned that no amount of dark clothing will keep curious eyes from staring at you. If they’re going to stare at you anyway, you might as well give ‘em something good to look at! Thus, fiberglass became canvas.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Spoonie Life Hacks group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Make life with chronic illness a little bit easier. Join the Spoonie Life Hacks group to get tips from other spoonies for tackling everyday tasks — and share your own hacks! Click to join.
A banner promoting The Mighty's new Spoonie Life Hacks group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Make life with chronic illness a little bit easier. Join the Spoonie Life Hacks group to get tips from other spoonies for tackling everyday tasks — and share your own hacks! Click to join.

By cast number 25, I gained enough confidence to “celebrate” the occasion with rhinestones (offset by a few sharks for that fierce factor).

Katie's cast art with rhinestones and sharks.
Katie's cast art with rhinestones and sharks.

And by cast number 30, more than one specialist doctor was taking pictures and videos of each new piece of art for social media. People have even kept certain favorites.

Assortment of casts painted by Katie.
Assortment of casts painted by Katie.

It’s worth the awkward yoga, twisted, sometimes painful pretzel poses I have to do to reach some parts of the casts, reversing images in my mind to paint upside down on leg casts, painting with my non-dominant hand at times, and even figuring out how to paint a leg cast when my home health nurse told me lovingly that she wasn’t impressed when a back injury left my cast halfway finished in a sunset ombré — not up to my typical glitzy par. I had to figure out a way to put my own original artwork on a cast I could not reach no matter how hard I tried.  For those wondering, I refused the generous help of a few kind souls as it needed to be my own work, so painted images on thin paper and then did accept help in having my paintings Mod Podged to my leg according to my dictated placement. That way, I can still say I painted the flower and bumble bee that were on my cast.

Cast decorated with flower and bumblebee.
Cast decorated with flower and bumblebee.

One of my favorite phrases in life is “Rainbows in the Rain” — whether that is referring to finding the rainbow in the rain when you are faced with a difficult patch in life or being the rainbow in the rain for someone else when possible. I figure that by painting my casts, I make the best of a logistically and emotionally difficult and rather painful time in breaking bones/tearing tendons/having surgeries and thus find my own rainbows.

Cast decorated with cupcakes.
Cast decorated with cupcakes.

As for bringing rainbows to others, I’ve even been stopped by people in the airport while traveling to a hospital out of state and had a literal line of people ask to take pictures with me and my painted double leg casts because they loved my joyful spirit and artwork. The left was painted purple ombré with flowers and mermaids, and the right was painted red ombré with flowers and dragons, so they were pretty awesome.

Cast painted red with dragons.
Cast painted red with dragons.

The moral of the story is just because your disease dictates a great deal of your life for you, often in a “negative” way, it doesn’t mean you can’t flip the narrative and take control, make it positive, be creative, and do it your way! Try to remember that you have a disease, your disease doesn’t have you. Plus, a little spark of color and dash of bling never hurt!

Cast decorated with giraffe.
Cast decorated with giraffe.

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