Audible Sigh (In The Face Of Exceptionalism)

Have you ever bent over for something and then been abruptly brought to a complete stop? I’m not talking about contortionism, where the body is bent in shapes unknown to the geometric sciences, but like reaching down to grab something off the floor when you’re sitting in your office chair. Or knowing that if you have a bowl of cereal and take aspirin for your legs in the same day, you might as well just grab a Sharpie and scrawl “Occupied” on the bathroom door, because that’s where you’ll be spending the majority of your evening and the better part of tomorrow. I mean, I knew going in that I wasn’t preparing for longevity, but I really didn’t think that everything would start going out so soon. I was kind of hoping for my body to shut down a little more dramatically, rather than this piecemeal approach of stuff just not working right anymore. For instance, just after typing that last sentence, I stretched a little bit to really work into a morning yawn, and now it feels like I have a molten ice pick stabbing quickly in and out of that general area between my shoulder blades. And the best part? Sometimes, when I yawn, something happens to my jaw, and I’m stuck there with the lower part of my face hanging diagonally from the rest because looking like I’m attempting to mock someone who has suffered some sort of brain injury is apparently the only expression that I am allowed which will exempt me from a rolling cranial agony.

 My Physical Therapist (back when I had that sweet, sweet, pre-tax Health Insurance) said that she thought it was all the stress which I seemed to be carrying around that was causing my discomfort. That my muscles were held in perpetual tension, and the slightest move could throw the whole thing (the thing in this case being my entire musculoskeletal system) out of whack. I remember our first couple of sessions together, when she would feel the knots in my legs and back, and keep insisting that I relax, only to have me fire back that I was, in fact, relaxing, and that if she would like me to continue to do so, she might reconsider harping on about it. On a side note: a few years ago, my wife saw that I was in some distress, and insisted on giving me a massage. It felt wonderful (but then again, intimate moments with the one you love are usually bound to do that, and there are few things more intimate than leaving yourself completely vulnerable to another, and letting them near your spinal column. Or, if you’re me, taking your shirt off in front of another. I don’t like that I have boobs now), but as soon as she managed to work out the first knot, my back began collapsing back into itself, as if my spine were held straight like a suspension bridge.

Of course, my doctor didn’t want to prescribe me muscle relaxants, referring to them as “rum and Coke in a pill”, and instead prescribing me a series of medications that not only failed to take away my pain, but began causing psychological issues as well. Instead of following the therapist’s recommendation, and listening to his patient that the only thing that’s ever worked for my Bi-Polar is regular, plain-old, no kickbacks lithium, he decided to keep trying to kill two birds with an increasingly expensive collections of “just one stone.” He eventually referred me to a pain specialist, but by that point, I’d already put myself slightly into debt, and couldn’t afford the “Specialist Visit” or the take the time off of from my job, as apparently this guy was only seeing patients during the times I had to be at work. As for the psych consult: my insurance kept dragging their feet and refusing to cover a visit with the guy who came to the clinic that I was already going to. I could understand, I suppose, if I was begging Valium, or something equally pernicious (Dear God! We can’t allow people to consume anything that might actually make them feel better! Say, Bob, pass me a Scotch?), but the only thing I needed to go along with a regimen of lithium was series of blood draws to make sure that I wasn’t building up to a level of toxicity. But again, I’ve found it almost impossible to get the meds that work for me, because you can’t get more generic than an element and there’s nothing in it for the Healthcare Industry/Big Pharma if I take it instead of one of their new wonder drugs. You know the ones. The brand new antidepressants whose side effects include suicidal thoughts (not to mention that lithium is an anti-manic, and works to keep the depression away by tempering the mania, and thereby staving off the inevitable burnout).

I admit that in my younger years, I might have been inclined toward a more debauched approach to my pain management. Of course, the majority of the pain which I experienced throughout my adolescence was of a more philosophical nature. But now I’d like to have a life where I could be pain-free, and do the things I dreamed of doing when I still had a range of motion. I know that losing weight and exercising will address most of what I am suffering from, but it’s hard to put yourself upon that road when it’s hard to even get out of your bed. The weight of not only the world is hanging down upon my bones, and I don’t want to get to the point where Jerry Springer has to cut me out of my apartment. But when walking to the store is an enhanced interrogation of my joints, I am less likely to get even the most basic of my daily recommended calisthenics.

There is no money to be made in making people well. Why, in this world where everything has a price tag, would you look to cure an ill for just one payment, when you could manage a condition, and get your monthly paycheck? I realize my Marx is showing, but since when does medicine, at its core, have anything to do with dollars? Jonas Salk could have bought an island if he’d wanted, but he chose instead to give it all away. Do no harm, their oath decrees, but let’s haggle over the semantics. People with terminal diseases are made to endure their months (or years) of hell, because we’d rather dope them up and keep them high, than actually end their pain. But if you might need something to help you keep on living, if your head’s not quite ready for life’s guillotine, then, sorry, lad, you’re on your own. Even worse is the trend to find a new chemical combination which has no practical application, and then to hurry off in search of some plausibly unknown condition which this new drug now magically can treat. I’d say the very state of medicine is sickening to me, but I’m uninsured, and I’m not sure I can afford it.

So what is the answer? I have absolutely no clue how to get us from where we are to where I think we should be. When society would rather that that suffering keep on doing so, it’s hard to frame the benefits of universal health. I wonder what would happen if we stopped shouting about our exceptionalism, and actually did something to show it. I wonder what would happen if we made it a point to offer a real education of all of our citizens, not just the ones who can afford to pay. I’m curious to know if people would work harder if their bellies were full of healthy foods, and had access to a doctor outside of an E.R. There is the myth of the Rugged Individual, who built this country by himself with nothing more than his bare hands. Never mind that a society is not just a group of individuals all working for his own enrichment. The point, it seems to me, is that we have come together to be more than we might be apart. To do things with one another than cannot be done alone. There are seven billion people on this Earth of ours, and the vast majority of them are no better off than they might have been centuries ago.

Set an example, America. You think the world hates you because of your smorgasbord of liberty? Yeah, I’m not usually put out with the rich guy because of all the advantages he has, but by the fact that for him to have them, I must be deprived of something. We have the wisdom and the capabilities to feed the entire world, and instead we send them bombs and drones and wonder why they’re not our friends. Maybe they won’t do the things we’d rather that they do, not toe the party line that we’ve laid down in the sand. And I’m sure that someday an evil will arise that the world will be forced to band together to defeat. But maybe we could try to stop shooting first, and then questioning the corpses. We have eradicated diseases, put men on the moon, split the very atom, and we allow people in this country and throughout the world to starve? To die of curable illnesses? To remain ignorant and powerless until they have no alternative but to ally themselves with someone with charisma and self-interest, engage in banal acts of atrocity, simply because wasting away is something that they’d rather never do?

We have a choice. We can remain ignorant bullies and keep threatening the third world countries with “democracy”, as that’s been working really well for the past sixty years or so, or we can elevate the conversation and insist on helping those who might not otherwise be able to help themselves. It will mean sacrificing for the meekest of the Earth, for those with nothing left to lose. But surely a Christian nation could do no less. And the flow of riches to those whom rags might be a godsend will ease the burden of the wealthy as they gaze upon the camel attempting to thread the needle.


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