Tuesday, January 15, 2013
For most people, getting sick is no big deal, a minor inconvenience. But when you get to my age, every sniffle, wheeze, intestinal pain or unexpected ache is interrogated like tea leaves for signs of the end times.
My father was famous in our family for refusing to admit it when he was sick. Nothing put him in bed, neither cold nor flu, or even a bad hangover. Then in his 70's he had two heart attacks in quick succession. Thereafter, the word of the doctor was law. He surrounded himself with medication and measured the doses religiously. Late onset asthma and emphysema required oxygen tanks in the house, but he was too embarrassed to resume his daily walks at the mall with his buddies carrying his tank behind him. He lived until he was 83, a grand old age, but his final years were lived in a medicalized haze.
Nan has had a cough for weeks and refused all offers of medication. When we flew back home from our trip to Korea, my head filled up like a balloon with mucous and I could barely breathe. So I immediately sought remedies in the bags of pills we keep in a bathroom drawer. My sinuses were screaming and pain spread under one cheekbone. A trip to the emergency room at the hospital up the street confirmed my diagnosis and I got an antibiotic for the infection along with a decongestant, and medicine I've only found in Thailand, Mucosolvan, to clean out the airways.
My worst fear is not being able to breathe. I recall bending over in our North Carolina home when I was seven, struggling for every breath. The asthma attacks began when we moved south from Ohio. They took me to the hospital where I was put in an oxygen tent and given a shot of adrenaline to kickstart the faulty fight-or-flight response back into normal action. I was given a back scratch test to determine allergies and found I was sensitive to everything, particularly milk, tobacco and cat hair. At Duke Hospital in Durham I was a guinea pig for a new treatment that never worked. Eventually various prescribed epinephrine sprays kept the attacks in check.
When I came to Thailand five years ago, I abandoned the Statin drugs that presumably had kept my cholesterol in check and stopped using the corticosteroid spray I was told to inhale daily to prevent asthma attacks. And I resolved to no longer monitor my PSA level to see if the prostrate cancer I'd lived with for six years was spreading. With the image of my father's declining years in mind, I did not want to constantly watch for signs of decay. Old people discussing their illnesses are exceedingly boring.
My reluctance to get periodic checkups was mystifying to friends. One of my closest, who has had several heart attacks and a pacemaker installed, shook his head at my stubbornness. Medical care in Thailand is approximately half that back in the states, but it is something I consider a needless luxury on my limited retirement income. Aging skin is prone to all manner of strange growths, but I no longer get a regular skin scan to detect horrors like melanoma, which killed my friend Corb. My hearing sucks, my eyesight is failing, a degenerative knee hurts when I walk, and I need a tooth pulled, but most of me works just fine so I put off all possible bodily renovations and reconstructions. If life is ultimately fatal, why try to postpone the inevitable?
When I drove my car drunk into a candy store at the age of 18 and broke my femur, the hospital was my refuge. I loved the care and attention I received during the two months I lay in traction. Even the instructors on their rounds with nurse trainees gave me pleasure. First the girls practiced with a hypodermic needle on a defenseless orange and then they experimented on my butt. Years later I looked upon that time with nostalgia and thought of doctors and hospitals positively as sources of healing. What bothered me most was to seek medical help for some ailment only to be told it was nothing to worry about. Being diagnosed with cancer put that to rest.
Illness and injury are transient and aging is a permanent, and rapidly escalating, decline of the physique. Somewhere in the middle are the multifarious malfunctions of the body, like heart disease and cancer, which one day may be confirmed as the result of poor lifestyle choices, or the consequences of pernicious changes in the environment determined by corporate greed. Total health is an illusive and short-lived goal.
My prescription for life is Deuteronomic and Nitzschean. In the Biblical book of Deuteronomy, God told the Israelites: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live." Constantly watching the body, its health and its prospects of longevity, is for me to choose death. Our task is to live here now, as fully as we are capable. Nietzsche was plagued with migraines and eventually died from syphllis, but a joy for life shines through his most pessimistic philosophy. In his strange yet central idea of eternal return, he advised that we should live our life in such a way that we could relive it forever, a "Groundhog Day" of the will. I'm damned if I want to relive my life in a doctor's office or a hospital emergency room.
Sunday, January 06, 2013
Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and mars
Any heart not tough nor strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain,
Love is like a cloud, holds a lot of rain
Love hurts, oooh, love hurts.
"Love Hurts," written by Boudleaux Bryant and recorded by many
Korean TV dramas are very popular among Thais and their own episodic programs, called lakorn, show the influence. Music is very prominent and each series has a memorable theme that is repeated with many variations. While I can't understand much of the dialogue, I do appreciate the music and the strong emotions of the characters that move along with it. Thai lakorns favor ghosts, gangsters and comedy, but there always seems to be a love angle, or more often a love triangle, to engage the audience. In California I used to watched Mexican telenovelas in an attempt to learn Spanish and they seemed very similar to their Asian counterparts. Unlike the popular soap operas on American daytime TV, these are miniseries with a limited run. Even Brazil has its own romantic TV drama tradition. All episodes of "Winter Sonata" are available on YouTube with English subtitles, and there are even episodes subtitled in Arabic (the anime version is also online). Europe and the U.S., however, have not yet succumbed to the magic of Asian drama.
Why does love hurt? Probably for the same reasons given by the Buddha's analysis. As humans, we all suffer from sickness, old age and death, and make it worse by resisting change. We cling together and pine away for health, eternal youth and immortality. Our human habits of ignorance, anger and envy compound the problems of life. In the shelter of love for a little while we can avoid the inevitable. That we cannot stay there forever, hurts.