Carolee Jackson's eyes felt as if they were on fire as she lay in a hospital bed in October 2001, fighting a consuming lung virus.
As Jackson reached to her face to snuff the flames, she had the thought that her anger she felt that moment would later be heard through the work of those hands.
"Take Two ..." an ongoing sculpture composed of more than 1,700 donated prescription bottles, is a vehicle for Jackson's voice and the voices of others who struggle to afford medications, Jackson said.
"By participating, now these people that sit at home without a voice can join others in similar situations," Jackson said. "Together we have a voice."
The sculpture began four years ago as a personal statement on the health care crisis in America, said Jackson, who has been permanently disabled by chronic severe asthma for more than a decade.
Artists Reception: Carolee Jackson and Jack GreenshieldWhen: 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 9Where: Artists of the Rim Gallery, 408 W. Main St.
"It took on a culture of its own, as people donated more bottles," Jackson said. "It is no longer mine. This is the people's piece."
More than 70 clear tubes containing red, blue, green, brown and yellow prescription bottles form a nearly complete circle.
The design "simulates upright barriers using stacked prescription bottles, the most recognizable object directly associated with medical care," Jackson said.
Walking into the enclosed space evokes a sense of being trapped in a "cell of despair" by the impediments to affordable health care, Jackson said.
The obstacles include health care lobbyists, the government, pharmaceutical companies looking to generate profit and the health insurance industry itself, which continually denies treatment even to insured patients, Jackson said.
"When people step inside, they start talking about their own experiences and those of their family and friends," Jackson said. "It opens up a verbal intercourse with everyone sharing their experiences with health care in this country."
Jackson said she has suffered financial ruin several times in order to purchase medications that kept her alive.
"I offered to divorce my husband because I felt guilty," Jackson said. "In my opinion, that's wrong."
Jackson said her monthly cost for inhalers and other medications amount to several hundred dollars. That figure would soar to thousands without the assistance she receives from Medicare.
"It is still tough," said Jackson, who has since developed other chronic health conditions from taking certain medications.
The health care crisis affects animals as well, Jackson said, as represented by the red, green and blue bottles donated by veterinarians.
"It breaks my heart that people are put in the position to have to euthanize their pets because they cannot afford care," Jackson said. "People have to choose, ‘Do I buy pills for Fluffy or pay my electric bill?'"
Jackson said she was unable to afford medications for herself and her ailing dog.
"I had to make the decision to let my friend go," said Jackson, tears welling up in her eyes.
Although the piece focuses on the unstable state of health care in America, Jackson has received donations of pill bottles from England, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
"England and Australia have socialized medicine, so they get it," said Jackson, who has friends in both countries. "They've seen us lose everything we have to keep me alive, so they're emotionally invested in the concept of the piece."
Other bottles arrive from all over the United States, Jackson said.
"I'll get a box from someone I've never heard of in Atlanta who got my address from a friend," Jackson said. "Then I incorporate their bottles, adding their history and voice into the balance of the sculpture.
"It is a very powerful piece."