Healing

I finally went to a doctor, something I hadn’t done in years. Why not? In case I was ill of course. This is what stops people (OK, men) seeking help – the fear that we might need it. If you went there to get health booster shots or something we’d turn up every week. But to discover that you might really have a flaw, a weakness… Well, many men would sooner die. Many do.

I had a strange little spot on my leg. Every time it seemed to grow bigger – which was about every time I looked at it – I thought Oh no, should have seen a doctor before now. I’ve probably left it too late. I’m gonna die.

And then I’d ignore it again, for I am a manly man.

And thanks to getting myself a fantastic new phone for Christmas, I’d discovered another way I might be going. This is not a spin they put on it when they promote these health and fitness apps, is it? Get the new BitFit, find out you’re gonna die! My one has a doobry that can measure heartbeat. It tells you what is “normal”, and what is not. Mine was not.

Way not.

But by using my kneecap for leverage I finally got myself through a surgery door. And I’m so glad I did. The doc was nice and soon put my mind at rest. Yes that heart rate is quite elevated, she explained. But this means you’re badly unfit, not that It’s About To Blow. The thing on your leg you thought might be a death sentence for the last few years? That’s an old insect bite.

Well, she used words like “tumour”, “cyst” and “fibroid”, but thankfully it had nothing to do with cancer or cystic fibrosis. It was just a scary name for a weird kind of scar which, despite being in Latin, is perfectly harmless.

And she gave me anti-inflammatories to deflate the knee. As I suspected it was just a wrenching of the cruciate ligament, which in layman’s terms is the thing that keeps the lower end of your leg attached to the top end. I was very relieved to hear that surgery is not usually needed for this. Seriously, there are countless parts of my anatomy I would sooner have cut with sharp knives than my knees. But just in case, I’m on a waiting list to see a specialist too. And with the state of our medical service, there’s every chance that I’ll be completely healed before my appointment! Excellent.

Speaking of healing… It’s a week since the Charlie Hebdo massacre now. I wonder when the healing will begin there, or what form it will take. Nothing that’s happened since inspires much optimism, does it? We’re still going through the inflammatory reaction. A display of formation hypocrisy by the world’s leaders, evil and brainless “revenge” attacks on mosques, and of course promises of tough new laws right across Europe.

What, because the murderers took advantage of a loophole in the current anti-murder legislation? Do they think if a law is broken that means it wasn’t strong enough? It’s a kind of superstition, a fetishisation.

“Terrorism happened, we must make laws!”
“But terrorism is already illegal.”
“Well then we’ll make some other things illegal!”

And so there will be new powers of surveillance, new crimes of saying things that might lead to terrorism – the attack on public speech balanced by an attack on private speech. Perhaps it’s like the man with the hammer; for legislators, a problem is a thing that isn’t illegal yet.

The best response to terrorism is to do what you were going to do anyway.

Song From A Sick Bed

First Pic_09Well Happy New Year all you walking people, with your legs. I’m sorry, perhaps my frustration shows. I did my knee on New Year’s, thanks to wild and frenzied dancing at Roisin Dubh. Someone’s frenzied dancing knocked a drink over, I ambled past and slipped on that.

It’s funny how you know, even before you hit the ground, that it’s injury time. “This,” you say to yourself as you start to descend, “will not end well.” Something to do with the angle. And the wrenching. And the popping.

It was painful for a while, but now it only looks painful. And oddly, something like Van Goch’s Irises. I’ve made good progress, though it did mean being confined to bed for a couple of days. OK, there are worse places to be confined. All other places. And I was very fortunate to have a friend staying, who could mop my brow and bring soup and generally indulge me. But then spoiling someone is actually very nurturing. If your GP gave you a medically unnecessary backrub now and again, maybe a scatter of gentle kisses, far fewer people would need alternative therapies.

Healing is not something a doctor does to your passive body like a kind of mechanic, but it’s not a thing the body can entirely do for itself either. Medicine is a social interaction, between your body and the community it belongs to. Those around you influence your health in countless ways, from pooling their resources to care for you, to simply making you feel cared about.

Few things are more conducive to health and happiness than the assurance that you matter to other people. Why does fake medicine work so often? Because it makes you feel like someone actually wants you to get better. That’s why it’s called the placebo effect, meaning “I’ll please”, not the “take this pill and go away now you walking talking irritation” effect.

Beaten Off The Track

Well damn you, College. Three weeks I’ve been going now, three colds I’ve caught. I’d swear the place is one vast Petri dish. I have a fever, a sore throat, a bad attitude. I’ve been taking Lemsip and acinacea by the cupped handful, but it just seems to get worse.

So here’s a picture I took in Tuam the other day. I was going to save it to illustrate some article on slow work progress, or lack of investment in infrastructure, or… I don’t know, something an overgrown railway track would illustrate. But actually, it doesn’t do a bad job of representing my mental processes right now.

My Furst Day In Scoohl, Part 2

Fred Ott's Sneeze (film by William K.L. Dickson)
Fred Ott’s Sneeze (film by William K.L. Dickson) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Please excuse the flailing around. I’ve not been getting much time to keep up the blog. Bad enough that it’s the first week in college, with all that that entails. But – perhaps due to the sudden change in routine – I’ve come down with a nasty cold as well. I mean, really nasty. So much so that I wonder if it’s not actually mental illness brought on by the sudden increase in workload and stress. I feel depressed, have slowed reaction times, difficulty remembering what I’m supposed to be doing, constant tiredness, sneezing.

Well, I suppose the sneezing does remove any ambiguity.

It’s an oddly mental cold though. I find my sense of time is badly affected. Not timing, that would be bad enough, but time itself. I sometimes forget it’s the present. Which is unhelpful. It is important to be fully aware that the things one is experiencing are actually happening and not just a memory. Especially when driving.

My powers of concentration are, to put it mildly, impaired. To put it colourfully, I have the attention span of someone falling downstairs on fire. So it’s week one and I’m already behind in my work. I’ll tell you about the other two core elements of my first year’s courses – Database Systems, and Systems Development & Project Management – when I catch them and pin them down. All I really know so far is that they use the word “systems” quite a lot, and they are nothing I ever in the past for one moment envisaged myself studying.

Scarlet Fever

Cover of "The Fever (Evergreen original)&...
Cover of The Fever (Evergreen original)

I can recommend Wallace Shawn‘s play The Fever. I recommend it this way: Want a really harrowing time? Go see Wallace Shawn’s The Fever!

Another moving performance by Jerry Levy, but wow – this play is a lot more intense and depressing than Marx in Soho. Good though – in the way heavy theatre can be. Cathartic. Though I’m never sure about catharsis. Is it not just the feeling of pleasure you get when someone stops hitting you over the head?

And The Fever hits you over the head repeatedly. It also punches you in the kidneys and kicks you when your back is turned. It concerns a wealthy Westerner going through a crisis of conscience while suffering a fever in a Third World hotel. In fast succession, his unfastened personality swings from tortured liberalism to fascistic rage as he both realises that his pleasant life is a root cause of injustice, torture and death in places he once avoided even knowing about, then pities himself for being burdened with this  knowledge.

No, we’re not really expected to like him.

But is this dream a moment of clarity? In his febrile vision, the world is a giant zero-sum game where wealth only exists because it is wrested from the poor by violence, where every surplus means someone else goes without a necessity. You can draw different conclusions from that. One of course is that the only possible solution is a radical, total equalisation of humanity.

Another is that there is no solution, and all you can hope for is to be on the winning side. And fight tooth and nail to keep your advantage because the alternative – that the poor and oppressed might someday get to exact their revenge – is too horrific to contemplate.

Or maybe that’s just me. The Fever is a rambling play for sure, it loops and leaps, and yet there seem to be patterns in it. A Rorschach blot – Shawn spills the ink but leaves conclusions up to us. And you will see yourself in this play. Just perhaps not the best of yourself.

Eaten Alive!

The article is slightly horrific, so I’ll illustrate it with many lovely pictures to show why it was still worth going to the island. Probably.

You may be wondering why I didn’t post for several days there, pretty much the whole time I was on the island in fact. Mainly it was because we were virtually camping – having to saw and chop our wood, tend fires, cook, do all the washing by hand, and of course keep various kids amused without the aid of television. A camping holiday is pretty much like other holidays, except that you spend all your time working.

But even when I did have a moment, I couldn’t concentrate. My joke in poor taste had come back to bite me. It is true that mosquitoes are the most dangerous animal in Africa, in that they’re responsible for vastly more deaths than the big predators we usually worry about. They do it by spreading the deadly malaria parasite though. The big ones they have in Finland nearly did for me all by themselves.

They’re having their worst summer for mosquitoes on record. A country, remember, that is almost entirely composed of lakes and forests; they know mosquitoes. But they’d never seen them like this. A few more days camping and I would’ve been drained, a skeleton in a skin sack. The little bastards love me.

Unfortunately it’s not mutual. I react to mosquito bites – drastically, allergically. The site of the snacking reddens and swells. One on my forearm looked like a biceps that’d migrated south. My ankles went missing, and I’m still covered with blotches that look like a livid form of dry rot.

And Christ Christ Christ the itching. The itching! Maddening, excruciating, almost literally unbearable. If itching is a sort of tickling sensation, this was like being tickled by a psychopath with a darning needle. Am I succeeding in conveying that this was really quite unpleasant? And all the worse because I was trying like hell not to scratch. I’d had a mosquito bite become infected once, and needed an emergency injection of antibiotics. I didn’t want that to happen while camping on an island.

I thought my immune system would get used to it, but instead the more I was bitten the worse my reaction got. And, it seemed, the more I was bitten. Perhaps they could tell I was in trouble. The struggle became personal and bitter. I sat in the dark while the others slept, waiting for the tell-tale whine. The walls of the cottage were soon spattered with their blood. Wait, my blood.

What else could I do to prevent the bites? Nothing, it seemed. A citronella wristband might have been helping until it ran out – either that or I was just lucky the first day. Tea tree oil didn’t seem to repel them either, even when applied thickly enough to repel people. Though I sprayed literally every inch of my skin with Autan before going to bed, I was still eaten as I slept.

And nothing cured the itching either. I tried two antihistamines, two different analgesics (aspirin and ibuprofen), a hydrocortisone cream, a tripelennamine hydrochloride stick, and tea tree oil. None of them provided anything you could even dishonestly describe as relief.

Only one thing made the itching go away. It worked instantly, its effects lasted for hours, it was actually downright pleasant to apply. It’s available without prescription – in fact you can’t buy it in any pharmacy or  health food shop. And fortunately, it’s abundant in Finland.

What is this miracle cute for itching? Heat. Simple heat. Preferably as a powerful jet of water. On the island we didn’t have a shower – in fact we had no plumbing other than a cold tap – but we did have a sauna! Plus a wood-fired boiler with gallons of the stuff. I poured it on with a ladle, Japanese bath style, hot as I was able to stand – which seemed to be about 2°C short of first-degree burns. The heat actually intensifies the itching – in the same way that scratching does, but even more so. Like it was making all the itching that was due in the next few hours happen at once, getting it over with. The relief was… How can I put this politely? Think of the thing that gives you the greatest, the most sudden and complete, feeling of relief.

Yes, exactly. A strangely, intensely sensual experience. It was almost worth the itching to feel that release. Almost. For the first time in my life, I understand sadomasochism.

Finland – it’s the tropical paradise for people who like their tropical paradises with less heat. And indeed, three months of snow.

Bats And Venus

The other good thing about walks

Hmm. The free range chicken we just had for dinner seemed very fatty. That’s a thought. What if a chicken is free to move around, but chooses not to? But I have no right to criticize a hen’s lassitude. It is a woeful lack of exercise that has me laid up. I wouldn’t have back pain after a kick-around if I’d been in any way even slightly not unfit. I do feel a lot better today though. When I got out of bed this morning it, well, it was the afternoon. (I was at a wedding in Canada the night before.) But I felt a lot better. The lack of pain was so pronounced it amounted to pleasure.

To what do I owe this rapid improvement? Bowen pain relief technique? A heat patch? Anti-inflammatory pills? A good walk? There’s only one way to be sure. First, I’ll need two spines… Actually though I now think it’s not a very spinal hurt. There’s some pain in the right of my lower back, but as it’s also in my hip and thigh I thought it was radiating out because of pressure on nerves from a swollen disc. I had an injury a little like that a few years ago. But I’m thinking now it might be a pulled thing, a muscle in my hip.

Anyway I’ll just keep doing what seems to be working. Especially the walking. How can I not walk, when in just a little while I can be standing surrounded by nothing much except bog and sky? The sun down and no moon or star, just the planet Venus. Venus, and bats.