Thursday, September 3, 2009

out of touch with illness and death

yeah, it's been forever. get over it.

i've had some ideas floating around in my head for the past few months that seem to have congealed into a very rough theory this week: we are so far removed from death and dying that we don't understand the the difference between being sick and being gravely ill.

case in point: a few weeks ago, i had a virus hit me really hard & i developed viral meningitis. i said that "m" word to several people and was shocked at the magnitude of their reactions--i swear they literally thought i was going to die or something. it was VIRAL, there's nothing to be done but rest and fluids; some magic pill isn't going to make it all better. i had to suffer...big woop. life has its suffering.

but i don't think people like that answer. they like the vaccination--oh, excuse me: "immunization" panacea. (which , btw, does not confer immunity. just so you know. so calling them that is misleading--they are vaccinations; there is no such thing as immunization.) so now we can't deal with our kids getting itchy spots. let's vaccinate them for chicken pox. then have to give boosters every x number of years because it might rear its ugly head as shingles. or get more injections of the shingles vax now that we have to deal with the aftermath of taking a virtually harmless illness almost out of the naturally occuring cycle of childhood illnesses. same for rotavirus. and i know from rotavirus. khary got it THREE times the summer he was 2. sucked donkey balls. but as long as he was hydrated (thank heavens for nursing & the electrolyte properties of breastmilk!), he was moreover a healthy kid, just suffering through an illness.

even as recently as 50 years ago in rural areas, maybe a century in metropolitan areas, folks regularly dealt with loved ones dying at home. and preparing the bodies themselves, maybe even having the wake and/or funeral at their home. we were not so far removed from death; ironically, it was a very natural part of the life cycle. we're born, we live a life, maybe suffer some illnesses, and die, hopefully in comfort and from natural causes after a life well lived.

today, we send sick people to institutions--hospitals, nursing homes, hospice. now i'm not knocking the institutions, just making an observation about how we no longer personally experience nearly every moment of a loved one's passing. we remove them from us and thereby remove ourselves from their mortality. how is it preferable for a sick or dying loved one to spend his or her last hours in a sterile, impersonal environment? i, for one, would like to spend my last moments in my home, with my memories, and my loved ones. even if it means they share the suffering of my passing a little.

without the valleys, we cannot know how high our peaks really are.

which brings me back around to vaccination and to americans' germaphobia. it's as if we don't personally experience others' illnesses/suffering so we no longer recognize it as a normal station in life. everyone gets sick. it's okay. in fact, there's mounting evidence that it's *GOOD* for you to experience the natural courses of many illnesses, particularly upper respiratory and intestinal illnesses. even if you submit to germ theory (which, btw, is being shown everyday to rest on faulty logic), these illnesses are mild for the vast majority of people who contract them. why must we be so terrified of the microbes around us?--we've evolved alongside them. our bodies are not supposed to be kept sterile. our attempts to achieve sterility have given rise to resistant strains of illnesses, including mrsa.

none of us truly enjoy suffering. and more certainly, none of us enjoy watching the suffering of loved ones (especially children) when they are ill. but aren't we missing the point if we don't allow illness to enter our lives? that point is that, to fully appreciate our lives and function optimally, we must understand the suffering of illness and the suffering of mortality.

thankfully, i don't have immuno-suppressed kids or close family members. for those in that situation, vaccination and sterility measures can indeed be life and death. but let's face it--the vast majority of germaphobes have no good reason to be that way (barring psychological issues). i'm decidedly *not* a germaphobe. i go to the store, to run errands, to take my kids places, when i'm sick and probably contagious. my kids are often out when they're probably contagious. the world could do with some more contagion of these small things--colds, sniffles, etc. maybe we're doing a public service. even if it IS the dreaded h1n1/swine flu, we'll likely experience it as a cold. it's not a death sentence. my great grandfather died in the flu pandemic of 1917-18, so i understand the fear, but this is not 1917. we can treat the secondary pneumonia that was the primary killer in that pandemic. we wash our hands regularly (hopefully with NON-antibacterial soap, though!), live closer to hospitals and have easier access to health care if we do become unusually sick. the vast majority of us don't have to live in fear that every little cough is sending microbes of death our way.

it irks me that social codes are shifting from the phobic person to stay away from contagious situations to so many people being phobic that the person with a mild cold is shunned.

so maybe these swirling thoughts have nothing to do with one another, but in my head there are some connections among them.

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