In addition to the basics, such as having a first aid kit, posting emergency phone numbers-fire department, doctor, hospital, and Poison Control Center-it is important to have a working relationship with a physician who has some sympathy for the occupational hazards inherent in being an artist. Establishing such a relationship is not as simple as it sounds for few physicians are familiar with treating individuals exposed to hazardous materials in general. Even fewer are acquainted with the hazards specifically involved with the creation of professional artwork. Most artists will be unable to find a physician with this special knowledge and will have to come to terms with a local general practitioner or internist.
There are some guidelines that I have found helpful in establishing a relationship with a personal physician. Because symptoms of chronic, low-level poisoning are vague, they may easily be attributed to hypochondria. You may well be a hypochondriac, or become one after reading this chapter, but you do not wish to be written off as one before there is any proof. You must therefore be as specific as possible in describing your complaint, whenever possible, using the chemical names of the major ingredients of the materials that you have been exposed to and explaining exactly how that exposure has taken place. If you just say that you believe the source of the problem is from the artists’ materials that you are using, most physicians will simply associate the term “artists’ materials” with some category of hobby and craft materials rather than with industrial solvents and chemicals. There are now specific tests for the detection of many of these chemicals, but if you are not specific, a nonspecific test may be performed, which will generate inconclusive results.
In general, the more “professional” your behavior, the more likely that your physician will work effectively with you. It is important to strike a balance between panic and fatalism. You have lived long enough to read this, despite the materials that you have been exposed to. However, it is important to have regular health checkups and tests for the materials to which you are exposed.
Excerpts from ART HARDWARE: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials, by Steven Saitzyk © 1987 All rights reserved. Reproduction forbidden without written permission.