Bodies and Souls, Part 2

blue and silver stetoscope

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

And so, we ponder the mysteries

of body and soul, the medical arts,

blood pressure, pulse, the body parts

and histories

 

(labeled with another’s name)

 

We wonder, who is she

who intrudes on the charts

who lubs dubs with my mother’s heart–

the mysterious Susan C.

 

We speculate—

the student who once threw a roll,

or was it she on the grassy knoll?

What is or was her fate?

 

(Did they need to operate?)

 

Let’s Google her, we say.

Is it her, or her, or her?

Which woman there would we prefer?

It doesn’t matter, either way.

 

Why won’t her name disappear?

Is she a Russian spy?

Why? Why? Why

is her name so clear, so near

 

to erasing it—persevere, we will.

There! All set.

No. Sigh. Not yet.

 

(Do you think she’ll pay the bill.)

 

I don’t want to go into details or give the woman’s full name, but there was another woman’s name associated with some of my mom’s medical records, and we could not get rid of it. But we got a little silly with wondering who she was. If interested, you can read my more serious post here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visions of May

“Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long”

–Jackson Browne

 

“And a bird overhead sang Follow,
And a bird to the right sang Here;
And the arch of the leaves was hollow,
And the meaning of May was clear.”

–Algernon Charles Swinburne

 Yesterday morning I sat in the waiting room of the surgical center, and I waited—of course. It was May first, May Day, the day of flowers and revolution, parades and Maypoles. In our region, torrential April showers the night before left flooded streets and hopes that now giant May blooms will spring forth. In any case, I waited. I edited three entries for my next book, checked Facebook, read part of a novel, and waited some more. My husband was having cataract surgery done. This was his second surgery; he’d had the first eye done a few weeks ago. He is fine (except for some extra pressure in his eye right now), and so thrilled to be able to see well. “I can read that!” he exclaims about words that appear on the screen when we watch TV.

         I marvel that surgery such as this—removing the lens from an eye and replacing it with a new lens is now “routine surgery.” Yes, I know every surgery carries risks, and I know that some people have had problems with cataract surgery—and probably every type of surgery—but still, I marvel.

         For the past week or so, I’ve been immersed in eighteenth-century medicine. I’ve read about Washington’s teeth—there was a man with some dental problems! I’ve thought about what women and doctors said about menstruation–and tried to imagine coping with that before disposable pads, tampons, or running water. I’ve examined documents about eighteenth-century epidemics and medical techniques. And so, though I long for the non-invasive medical techniques practiced by Dr. McCoy and Dr. Crusher on Star Trek in their respective Enterprise sick bays, I still marvel at how medicine has advanced from the eighteenth-century.

         All types of revolutions took place in the eighteenth-century. There was the revolution that gave my country, the United States of America, its independence. There was a revolution in France a few years later that toppled its monarchy, at least for a time. The revolution in Haiti ended slavery there and sent French masters to the new United States. But, there were also revolutions in science and scientific thinking, as men—and women—sought, as they have throughout time, to explain the world around them.

The changes to “scientific practices” were not always beneficial. For example, in the late eighteenth-century, Martha Ballard, a midwife in Maine, delivered nearly 1,000 babies without any mother dying during delivery, and only five mothers died during the “lying-in” period. These rates were much lower than that of her contemporary physicians. Ballard, was a particularly skilled and conscientious mid-wife; some of the physicians who delivered babies did not have her skill or experience. In addition, physicians sometimes attended laboring mothers after they had examined seriously ill patients. Since this was before doctors and the lay public understood how diseases were spread or about the need for sanitary practices and sterilization (some people still don’t understand—like those people who don’t wash their hands in public restrooms. Ewwwww!), “advancement” in obstetrical techniques practiced by physicians sometimes led to more deaths of mothers than the traditional birthing procedures practiced by midwives.*

Still, I marvel. While working on my forthcoming Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, I read several gruesome accounts of women undergoing mastectomies without anesthesia. The over diagnoses and treatment of breast cancer is a debate to have at another time, but I think all would agree that surgery without anesthesia, X-rays, and other modern surgical tools is not something we would want to experience.

I get so peeved when I hear people talk about the good old days that never really existed. There have always been wars, murders, rapes, stealing, and child molestation. Since ancient times, art, music, and storytelling have also existed. Humans have invented better and more efficient ways to kill, but we’ve always invented better ways to heal. We are complex, creative creatures, and sometimes also amazingly simple and stupid.

Some revolutions have brought death, but they have also brought freedom. Some revolutions have brought new ideas. Who know what this month of May will bring? I’m hoping for bright new visions—and flowers, of course.

 

 

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Longwood Gardens

* Further reading on eighteenth-century midwives and childbirth:

Leavitt, Judith Walzer. 1986. Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750 to 1950. New York: Oxford University Press.

Scholten, Catherine M. 1985. Childbearing in American Society: 1650-1850. New York: New York University Press.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. 1990. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. New York: Knopf.

 

A Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast

About two weeks ago I received a UPS delivery. It looked like books, and I wondered how I could have forgotten that I ordered some. I was surprised to find it was a box of brochures for my forthcoming book a Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast!

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The brochures are beautiful. I can’t wait to see the actual book!

Please recommend the book to your local and college libraries–and to anyone and everyone who might be interested! There are nearly 150 entries on a variety of breast-related topics, including Amazons, Beauty Ideals, Breast Cancer, Breastfeeding, Corsets, Dance, Eating Disorders, Pin-Up Girls, the Virgin Mary, and the Women’s Movement. The entries were written by a group of international scholars (including me!) with expertise in various disciplines and edited by yours truly.

The books should be out in August 2014, but there is a special promo code offering 25% off for pre-orders of the print copy by June 30, 2014.

4S14ENCYB

Order online at http://www.rowman.com

Email orders@rowman.com

Phone: 1-800-462-6420 or local 717-794-3800

Fax: 1-800-338-4550 or local 717-794-3803

Thanks so much for reading!

Merril

Having a Cold is Not Hot

A man mid-sneeze. Original CDC caption: "...

A man mid-sneeze. Original CDC caption: “This 2009 photograph captured a sneeze in progress, revealing the plume of salivary droplets as they are expelled in a large cone-shaped array from this man’s open mouth, thereby dramatically illustrating the reason one needs to cover his/her mouth when coughing, or sneezing, in order to protect others from germ exposure.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems that colds are the “in” thing right now. Everywhere I go, people are coughing and sneezing. Now that I’m one of the members of the in-crowd, I can state without any hesitation whatsoever, I don’t like it. This is a club I would prefer not to join.

I haven’t had a cold in years. Having one makes me grumpy and listless. But I can’t go to the gym to relieve my grumpiness or listlessness because I have a cold. Yes, it’s a cycle, but not one I can ride. Trying to exercise while I cough and sneeze would not be fun for me–or for the people around me.  Yes, I do understand it could be worse. After all, I don’t have the flu. Or polio. Or the plague.  But my nose is red and sore, and I’m tired because I was coughing all night.

I am fortunate to have a kind husband who picked up spicy, vegetarian lemongrass soup for me on his way home from work. I would like to say it tasted delicious, but I can’t really taste anything right now. He also bought Sudafed for me a couple nights ago. In case you haven’t purchased it recently, it requires approximately 17 forms of ID, a couple of sworn affidavits, and an Executive Order signed by POTUS himself. Perhaps I exaggerate, but only slightly. In any case, I didn’t have to go to the drugstore myself, which is good because I could stay in my pajamas and be grumpy.

I’ve been drinking gallons of water, tea, and hot soup. I’m not sick enough to stay in bed, so yesterday I spent the day blowing my nose and working dutifully at my computer on assignments that are due. (And yes, this morning I wiped my keyboard down with alcohol and sprayed the house with Lysol because I am both conscientious and a germaphobe.)

Then our younger daughter sent me a text saying she might come home from college for the weekend. I told her I wanted to see her, but I wasn’t sure that she should come home since I have a cold. I don’t want her to get it–because then we would both be grumpy.

Please forgive all my complaining. I AM feeling better today, but I still have a cold. And I’m grumpy.