In December 2008, Shannon had a sinus infection that progressed into a life-threatening subdural empyema, a rare brain infection which brought her very close to death. A subdural empyema is an infection of the brain, resulting in an accumulation of pus. Antibiotics alone will not cure it; often surgery is required to alleviate the pressure within the head. It’s a condition that is extremely serious; when a patient descends into coma with a subdural empyema, there is a death rate of 90%. This was Shannon’s state upon her admission to the acute Neurology Ward of the Royal Victoria Hospital.
During her first craniotomy (brain surgery), Shannon’s neurosurgeon removed approximately 40mls of thick green pus from the surface of her swollen brain, and placed a section of her skull in her abdomen. Shannon was paralysed down her left side for approximately three weeks, and underwent a second craniotomy when the infection returned, receiving IV antibiotic treatment until her discharge, nine weeks later. After a total of five months of antibiotic treatment, Shannon’s infection cleared, and she had a third
brain surgery to return the bone flap to her skull. However, though she looked the same on the outside as she did before her illness, Shannon felt markedly different on the inside—she had an acquired brain injury.
Being a writer, Shannon always knew she would create an artistic piece about what happened to her, primarily as a way to understand it herself. In 2010, she began this creative process about her experience of being ‘disassembled, and reassembled, slightly askew’.
Rather than write a play to be performed onstage to an audience at a distance, Shannon wanted to create a more visceral experience by utilising movement and sound as dynamic mediums, especially as in her early days in the hospital, it was unclear if she would walk or regain control of her left hand again, and she continues to have noise sensitivity.
Shannon approached Anna Newell, a director with extensive experience creating interdisciplinary work, who knew Paul Stapleton from the Sonic Arts Research Centre and the wonders of binaural microphone technology. Joined by Hanna Slättne as dramaturg and Stevie Prickett as choreographer, the artistic team began years of intermittent research and development, not only figuring out Reassembled, Slightly Askew, but creating the artistic interdisciplinary language they would use to merge artforms that have not been integrated fully in this way before. In 2013, they were joined by medical advisors, Mr Roy McConnell, Shannon’s consultant neurosurgeon, and Colin Williamson, who nursed Shannon in the hospital. Throughout the development process, Shannon organised multiple focus groups of medical and health profession, artists, and the general public to provide feedback on the various drafts of Reassembled, Slightly Askew.
Research, development and production support was made possible by the Wellcome Trust; two grants from the Arts & Disability Awards Ireland scene managed by the Arts & Disability Forum on behalf of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and An Chomhairle Ealaion; Arts Council Northern Ireland, the MAC, Sonic Arts Research Centre and Cedar Foundation. In 2015, the completed 48 minute audio artwork had its world premiere at the Metropolitan Arts Centre (Belfast) as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival before touring Portstewart, Derry, LIsburn, Down, Cookstown and finishing at the Arts & Disability Forum's BOUNCE! Festival at the Lyric Theatre (Belfast).