Patsy Desmond, 1965-2011 | Bleader

Patsy Desmond, 1965-2011


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Patsy Desmond, in front of a north-side nursing home this summer
  • Patsy Desmond, in front of a north-side nursing home this summer
Six years ago the Reader's Tori Marlan told the story of Patsy Desmond, a popular Wicker Park photographer and artist who "drank hard, laughed hard, made friends easily." A friend of Desmond's told Marlan, "It was as if she was always about to burst—in a good way. You hung out with her and it was invigorating."

Desmond was both self-destructive and remarkably resilient. Marlan recounted her struggles with bipolar disorder, paranoia, and bulimia. One morning in 2000 she drank drain cleaner that destroyed her stomach and esophagus.

Desmond subsisted after that on a nutritional liquid that was pumped into her small intestine through a tube in her abdomen. She complicated her recovery by getting hooked on painkillers and by pouring beer down her feeding tube. But before Marlan talked with her, she'd quit drinking and drugs and opened a gallery in her apartment building at California and Augusta. "All my life I wanted to be extraordinary," Desmond told Marlan. "I always felt I had to be better than everyone. Now I'm so happy to be average."

Her health, however, was clearly still precarious: she weighed 85 pounds when Marlan wrote about her. Late in 2005 she agreed to move to Colorado to be closer to her sister Kathleen and Kathleen's husband. She lived in a nursing home there until 2007, then returned to Chicago. After a few months in a nursing home here, she managed to move to a garden apartment in Humboldt Park, where she received home health care. She kept taking photos and throwing parties. In 2009 she moved to Logan Square. But early last year her independent living ended: she was hospitalized with pneumonia, and went from a critical care facility to a nursing home.

She was in and out of hospitals her last months with infections and pneumonia, but her will to live remained "relentless," her sister Kathleen says. In August she was cheered by a visit in the nursing home from her brother John's family, which included her three-year-old niece and a 10-month-old nephew she'd never met. A core group of friends remained "very loyal" to her, Kathleen says. Over the summer she painted T-shirt designs, and she kept taking photos into the first days of September. She died on September 14th, with family at her side. She was 45.

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