Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Seeing the Problem

When my mother was taken to the shock trauma unit with a fractured skull in early June, she had three CAT scans within 24 hours. Knowing the extent of the bleeding in her brain depended on seeing differences. Comparing each scan to determine any changes was the only way for the doctors to ascertain whether the bleeding had stopped. Across from her curtained cubicle I watched an array of screens where doctors studied x-rays of bones, pointing, discussing, drawing their conclusions based on what they saw in the pictures. Their knowledge of how something should look was consciously compared to the condition in the x-ray. Medicine is a triumph of educated visual knowledge.
Advances in medicine have followed advances in imaging technologies. The more we see the better we understand. We can get cameras just about anywhere. Even without high-tech imaging, what makes a doctor good is the power of perception. The bigger the picture, the more elements included and connected to the whole, the clearer the sense of the problem. This is why I appreciate my doctor, Rong Zhang. When I had a serious food-born infection that put me in the hospital for almost a week, she knew what the problem was as soon as she saw me. She said that even before she examined me she could tell from my body language that she would have to admit me. I had all the tests and scans that the specialists in the hospital required, and they speculated on all kinds of other possibilities based on the numbers, but in the end she turned out to be right. A few years before, I left a previous doctor who’d been too focused on isolated cause and effect. She’d looked up the symptom in a book, followed the line across to the other column and wrote a prescription for the drug listed there. When I got the drug home I read through the pages of information on it and noticed it shouldn’t be taken if another symptom was present that I had described in the consultation. Her focus on the narrow complaint filtered out what didn’t fit her limited view of the condition. Her image was oversimplified, not recognizing the body’s big picture as multiple interacting systems. Diet turned out to be the solution.
In relation to our mental and physical being, the idea of single cause and effect ignores the continuous adjustments of our bodies’ efforts to maintain balance. The biological principle of homeostasis refers to the dynamic adjustment for balance that occurs on a continuum throughout our bodies, from the chemical and cellular levels to the way our feelings shift in the course of a conversation as we adjust to the other person’s body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, as well as the words themselves. Adjustment is a primary action of living things and every perception includes the feeling that accompanies the inner shift for balance. Every symptom represents the body’s adjustment to something else. When something feels off in my body, I borrow an idea from Qi Gong to send positive feelings to the ailing part, focusing loving attention on it with thoughts of gratitude for the hard work that organ or system does keeping my body running smoothly. It fits my image of the body as a team. The mind is the coach, cheering the contributing elements of an interconnected whole which shares a common purpose. The widespread image dominating much of modern medicine is something closer to police action, ferreting out deviant numbers, warring with some defective element, isolating a sick part. The brain is just another part that might betray us arbitrarily, not connected or potentially helpful. The enforcing authority is outside the being.
Three years ago I developed a chronic pain in my side, and it kept getting worse. Directing my attention first was whether something in my habitual actions might be afflicting the muscles of that side. After a day or two of self- observation, I discovered that a position I lapsed into after I’d been painting for a while twisted my torso in a way that clearly could be causing it. When I avoided sitting like that, the pain I’d had for several months went away. If a member of our body-team is calling out for help, the coach and other team members show concern, they don’t eradicate the call with force.
Pain is a message, a call for attention, and often, reflecting on the big picture, the visual mind can see the problem.


Anonymous said...

This is all fascinating to me, as I've had two recent bouts of debilitating intenstinal pain that had me in bed for a week each time, living off of coconut water and avocado. There's a great book called: "You Can Heal Your Life" by Louise Hay, a Science of Mind (a religion/philosophy/science) minister and metaphysician, where she links any dis-ease in the body with mental patterns or emotions we've created for ourselves. Where back problems can be separated into: lower- fear of money. lack of financial support. middle-guilt. stuck in all that stuff back there. "get off my back." and upper-lack of emotional support. Feeling unloved or holding back love. The jaw is anger, resentment, desire for revenge, and foot problems are fear of failure and not stepping fully into life. Sure enough my intenstinal problems were fear of letting go, layers of old confused thoughts clogging the channel of elimination and wallowing in the gummed mire of the past. Which to me, at the time was EXACTLY what i was experiencing. As horoscopic as these symptom links may seem, studing Somatics-the interrelational process between biological function and environment-it's quite clear the body stores memories in our cells. Emotions happen and our bodies become the crime scene. What i'm fascinated by is how our bodies or our life keeps "reimaging" the lesson until we get it. Whether it's in relationship, a job, or some other social dynamic-we're constantly trying to teach ourselves-by recreating similar situations that challenge us to push past our fears and that which does not serve our highest good. It seems to be some sort of pathological Darwinism. And oh, how we resist. We cling to what we know, because it feels safe. Because it's familiar. Because we've convinced ourselves of the image(s) we've created. But i believe life has something else in store, it's doing all it can, silently from where it observes itself, and is cheering us on. Pushing over these obstacles into our path-hoping we'll see things differently. Hoping we don't drag our past into our future and step into it. So the only clear remedy for me in any ailment, be it body or in mind is to create something you want to live into. If you don't like what you see, visualize something else and belief in it. If perception is reality, what are you imaging?

Susan Waters-Eller said...

Thanks for those winderful thoughts.
The metaphors provided by our symptoms can be very illuminating regarding problems we haven't identified consciously. One of the first to offer these ideas and studies behind them to the public was
Norman Cousins. His book Head First came out what seems like decades ago---but thse ideas aren't looked at favorably by most mainstream medicine, The link between stress and cholesterol is never mentioned at all, but there are several studies showing things like accountants having higher cholesterol at tax time and students' levels being higher at exam time. But it's a good thing to keep in mind.

sayitwithme said...


Good to see you have a home on the web. I appreciate your writing and as always (like the images) it is moving and inspiring.

-Tad Irish

Sean Conroy said...

Since brain trauma is very easily permanent, as we all know, there is a particular part of ourselves that perks up I think when ever that type of injury is described to us. It's like a collective, 'Awe, damn... so what now’ kind of attitude. Susan described the brain as the coach while the body is the player, without direction and defense we are vulnerable. I can definitely contest to that kind of experience, even if my body is leading the motions of the moment, there still a conscious moment of, ‘Okay body, you have the reins, now giddy-up..” The poetical in that! The body is the player in the game of what is healthy and right behavior, which is outlined by our brain's chosen game plan. Weather one actually does what is healthy or right is not the determining factor for most people.
And just like sickness, which is mostly involuntary, the brain does not consistently get to choose every aspect of its’ own game plan, as to how it perceives the universe at given moments. Most of us can contest to being a certain way when our parents are around, some people shut off altogether unfortunately. It is pragmatic to think of people as physical examples of psychological states. Both require an upbringing and both are very complex to understand. Take for example superstardom; obsessiveness can swell over the mind like a Zerg swarm but the brain, the person, decides this. The outside world can only enforce or try to corrupt but not control entirely. Even this the sickness of obsession and over analyzation can pass if one allows it to exit the system.
When we are sick, both psychological and physical energy is diverted away from the Limbic System weakening one's sense of smell, direction and decision making is usually put to the way side. Yet as has been described by many-a-shaman: one's weakest state is their place for the most poetical to change. Carlos Castaneda put into words the best way to learn Sorcery was to not be grounded in the Earth to intently, but rather to allow one-self to believe what they will, how they will, whenever they choose to since human beings have the poetical to learn no matter what they are in. Sick, healthy, arrogant, ignorant, educated, old, young, unfathomable, forgetful or f**king ridiculous it doesn’t matter the brain will still coach and tend any state-of-the-art mindset you might conjure up . It's not that I think we should deliberately mess ourselves up to get sick or injured but rather I'm saying that when you do become sick that you just use the time to be productive in yourself. Just as Susan did with sharing her thoughts about her mother's CAT scans with us despite the circumstances of the aliment, there is the greatest of value in the those states of pain and disruptions. Thank you for reading.