Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wonder at what a body can do

Reclaiming my body as my own territory is no easy business. Most of my time and energy in recent weeks have been dominated by what was relevant to my immediate medical needs. I was very sick and am still working through some of the remaining side-effects. Officially, I remain in the midst of a serious illness, but by an act of will I’m regaining a measure of control of my life. Crucial to my success at achieving a strong remission is avoiding another trip to the hospital ER. I’ve had two now, and you can’t go down that road too many times before you’ll run out of luck.

Lord willing, I’ll run outside again in a few weeks, but until then I’m still getting a daily cardio workout on our stationary bike and doing some light weight-training. After the experience of my body—including my brain—going totally out of control, I marvel at its capacity to come back under discipline. Exercise is a way of telling myself that I can rebound from illness and that my body is worth taking care of for that time. It’s a way to upstage the banalities of being ill, most especially the wasting effects of physical and mental inactivity.

The wonder I feel about my body is not the same as regaining health, however. I’ve been through enough medical crises related to melanoma to know that I’m unlikely to have put them permanently behind me. It’s no wonder that medicine has felt authorized to claim my body as its territory. In our society’s view of disease, when the body goes out of control, the patient is treated as if he has gone out of control. Being sick thus carries more than a hint of moral failure. I have felt ever since I was first diagnosed of having been vaguely irresponsible. It's my job to become and remain healthy.

Of course, the problem is not that I or any other ill person has “lost” control; the problem is society’s ideal of controlling the body is wrong in the first place. The body is a wonder and will not always respond to what doctors may consider appropriate. It can sometimes heal or recover in ways that appear supernatural. I am more content for having given up the idea that my doctors must be in control, providing perfectly appropriate treatment, as they’ve proved of late their incapacity to do this anyway.

Wonder of the body and what it can do on its own seems a better place to be. The resilience that mine has shown has never been acknowledged medically, but it’s a pretty obvious fact. This doesn’t mean I will, with my doctors’ help, stop trying to change the direction the cancer in my body wants to take. Wonder and treatment can be complementary. That my body has responded to medical interventions does not mean that it was successfully controlled. Rather, I stand amazed at what “it” has done mostly on its own.

Wonder is always possible; control may not be. If an ill person can focus on the idea of wonder in place of control, then living in a diseased body can recover some of its joy.

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