Ronni, Alex, John, Yoko
Social Security - Part 12: The Risk

The Body as Appliance

category_bug_journal2.gif Judging by the commercials on prime-time television, constipation, gas and acid reflux are afflictions common to just about everyone older than 50. With such icky ailments to look forward to, no wonder our culture does everything possible to deny aging.

But health does come in to play to a larger degree as we get older. The body inevitably wears down, parts and systems don’t work as well as they once did and sometimes a minor change in a body’s behavior sets off an alarm: OMG, is this serious?

I admit to a twinge of that feeling now and again, but beyond trying to eat well and getting some exercise, I generally ignore my body and so far it has served me well without much attention.

A lot of our health – in youth and age – is attributable to genes and good luck. But I wonder too if it is subject to attitude. Let me tell you a story:

Some 25 years ago on a Saturday, I was rushing around shopping, cleaning, cooking, setting the table with the real silver, arranging fresh flowers and all, in preparation for dinner that evening with a man I was coming to adore. I desperately wanted to impress him.

About 4PM, out of nowhere, that unmistakable internal shakiness that precedes the imminent onset of a flu hit me and already I could feel my temperature rising, my back aching, my mind beginning to go fuzzy. No way, I thought. This is not going to happen today. I refuse to be sick for this dinner.

For reasons I don’t remember, I thought if I meditated (which I do twice a day), I might be able to send that bug on its way - or at least delay it - before it settled in to plague me for a week.

Down in the room where my mind goes during meditation, a giant spider appeared unbidden – a big, fluffy, stuffed-animal sort of spider. Spiders generally produce the eek effect in me, but I picked up this one, walked him out through a back garden I had not known was there, through a gate in a back wall and into an alley where there were trash cans.

I put the giant spider in a can, securing the lid with a raccoon spring. As I walked back to the room, I checked over my shoulder and saw the spider peeking over the wall. “You’re not there,” I told it. “I locked you in the trash.”

When I finished the meditation, all the symptoms were gone and I never got that flu.

The mind/body connection is a subject of serious medical study. Most famously, Norman Cousins wrote in his book, Anatomy of an Illness, of his recovery from an incurable and life-threatening condition by, essentially, laughing himself healthy again. I don’t know about humor, but I do believe, in some circumstances, in some people, the mind and body work together to maintain health - at least some of the time.

A lot of it, in my case, is attitude; I don’t like doctors. It’s nothing personal about them individually; they seem to be generally good, caring people. But they are like haircutters who will always take off too much because cutting is the definition of their job. And if you show up too often in a doctor's office, he'll find something wrong because that’s the definition of the job – to fix bodies.

A while ago, I reduced the frequency of my mammograms to every five years because surgeons have already cut open my breasts five times and the poor little dears (there is not much to them) are criss-crossed with scars. At every mammogram, the radiologist points out little white dots and tells me they might be cancer. Every time, I tell him they’ve always been there and they are calcium deposits. “Well, they might not be this time,” they say and convinced me, too often, to let them cut me open only to say afterwards, “Not to worry. They are calcium deposits.” Yeah. Right. I told you that.

I certainly don't adocate or recommend this for every one, but for me, every five years is enough now, and when the x-rays show something that looks different, then I’ll let them cut me open again. Meanwhile, it’s true I tire more easily than in the past, am chubbier than I would like to be and what natural teeth I have left are probably goners - it’s a family trait. And that all feels normal at my age and okay with me.

My belief about my body is that barring accidents and with a reasonable amount of care, it is supposed to last until it wears out and then I die – sort of like a refrigerator or a television set, which rarely break down until their permanent demise.

I fervently hope I am correct, that the advocates of the mind/body connection are on to something and that my impatient attitude toward doctors and bodily impediments will work for me until I arrive at the Pearly Gates in the same manner as those household appliances.

Comments

There's something to the mind/body connection. I'm sure of it. My first mother-in-law who was an old world type person announced that as both her sons were married, she was finished and it was time to die. Apparently robustly healthy at the time, within months she was diagnosed with the disease that killed her a year later. She was 54. My father also called it on himself. He retired at 69. He and my mother did have plans and seemed to be on a pace to enjoy retirement, but there was something missing for him, I guess. He said that he'd lived his threescore and ten and it was time to leave the stage. He died suddenly of cardiac arrest soon after that.

My mother, on the other hand, has outlived her genetic predictors by years and years. She was almost killed by well-meaning doctors only recently, but is heading toward a full recovery nonetheless. She finds life just as interesting and engaging as she ever did and isn't remotely ready to call it "her time".

On another note, I'm glad to see someone with the same attitude toward doctors. I don't so much mind going to my primary, who is a throughly sensible man, but as soon as specialists become necessary - well, when all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I have been out of town for a few days, and maybe this is old news to you, but great to see you were a Featured Blog on Typepad. You should be. Congrats!

A relative gave me Meditation for Dummies. It is hard for my brain to get around the combination - calm introspection on the one hand, loud yellow insulting packaing on the other. And now that I am stuck with the image of you and a big fat spider - but, gulp, I am game, I guess.

Judging by the pictures up top you and I are of the proximate generation. I haven't ever felt my "age" but recently my joints are giving out, especially my knees. I can't describe how it feels to suddenly have important parts of my body stop working reliably. It sucks and that's a fact. I'm trying to come up with a solution.

Way to go, Ronni!

I'm with you on doctors and like Zenyenta, especially the specialists! I'm seeing a homeopath because I don't want to take those deadly "legal" drugs for my problems. And I'm working on that mind/body thing too!

I like your approach to health.
I'm a little... surprised?... by my ambivalence to my own health issue. I wish I didn't have it and I'm going to look into getting it addressed... but I'm sure not about to let it define me.
Meditation definitely helps.

Fascinating. A love of life and a desire to carry on learning are surely keys to good health too. Walking a good few miles each week helps too. Alas, my wife has had a chronic illness for 15 years and no mind exercises have made any impact on it.

Hi Ronni,

Wonderful to hear your voice. Adds to the connection between you and me -- as well as with all your readers who listen to the recording.

Also, great that Typepad is featuring your blog. Love it! Congrats on the recognition!

Best,

David

Having gone through breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy in the fall, I feel like I don't want to see any doctor for a long time. I do a lot of walking but have always felt I was not a good candidate for meditation. Maybe it's not too late to try. I thoroughly enjoyed your spider story as the rest of the article. Thank you for letting us hear your voice on that one!

Back in TM times, I used to meditate twice a day. It's so easy to get out of the habit. Like you, I believe in the mind/body connection, especially for reducing the stress that often triggers illnesses. It's amazing how few people really take the time to take the kind of deep breaths that help us relax. However, still my knees get stiff, the teeth keep causing problems, and my disks keep deteriorating -- inescapable entropy despite the mind's efforts to prove otherwise.

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