The Medical Gaze

I’ve written a number of letters to you, and I would like for you to know that my morning routine is not the same since I hurt my back, but I’m still rising before dawn, drinking coffee and reading. Let me tell you about the book I’m pursuing. It’s entitled The Birth of the Clinic, by the twentieth century philosopher Michel Foucault. He called it an archeology rather than a history of medicine. It is ironic that I should be attempting to read something like this, because Laura made a doctor’s appointment for me yesterday and was happy that I agreed to go.

I don’t have to read Foucault’s esoteric ramblings to realize the power that doctors have over me. They hold the power to allow me to live my life to the fullest, or they can leave me helpless in bed. They can help me to live my best life, or they can cause the termination of my income and the automatic eviction from my subsidized apartment. They can leave me penniless and homeless. The Social Security Administration decides my fate based on what my doctor says. The manager of this apartment complex also questions my doctor each and every year.

But you probably realize all of this based upon our past conversations, and it makes me uncomfortable to discuss this further. Let me go ahead and tell you about my experience in the examination room. Laura went in with me, proceeding to sit upon one of the chairs while I sat on the bed. It wasn’t long before the nurse practitioner knocked on the door and entered. She was a brunette, much younger than us, wearing a white lab coat with a stethoscope around her neck. She introduced herself and shook hands with Laura and I. She sat in front of the computer terminal and we discussed my current medications while she typed furiously upon the keyboard. Then she asked me what happened. I told her that I was taking a shower and dropped the soap. When I bent over to pick it up, I raised my upper body and felt something catch in my spine. I didn’t hear anything pop or crack, but I had a sensation that wasn’t there before. When I dried off and went into the bedroom to dress, it began hurting, and I experienced spasms in my back.

It was after this that Foucault wrote that I would relinquish my personhood, and become an object of knowledge under “the medical gaze.” The first thing the doctor wanted to do was to listen to my heart. She placed the stethoscope upon two points upon my back, and said it was alright. I told her the pain seemed to be localized on my spine, so she lifted up my shirt and pressed upon my vertebrae, moving to successively lower ones until she found the one that hurt. Then I pointed out that all the vertebrae were painful down to the termination point, which I showed her by touching the bone with my finger. Then she instructed me to lay down upon the bed. She told me to relax my legs completely, and, when I did, she lifted and bent them. She asked me where the pain was. I told her that the pain ends precisely where my gluteous maxima begins.

After the examination, she reached her conclusion: acute bilateral low back pain without sciatica.  I asked her could any of this pain be permanent. The doctor said no, and assured me I would get back to normal again. She prescribed a steroid and a muscle relaxant. She typed it in and sent it electronically to Village Pharmacy. When I checked out at the front desk, the secretary gave me a printout saying to come back if the symptoms worsen or fail to improve.

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Psychotherapy and Politics

Laura had two physician appointments in Greenville with three hours to kill in between them. She asked me to go to town with her so I could keep her company, and I agreed to it. First, we visited her dentist because she broke her partial. The dentist was to fix her dentures. When we left the dentist office, Laura told me that she forgot to fix something to eat before we left home and she was getting hungry. She always does this. I took her to Logan’s Roadhouse restaurant, where I ordered a mesquite salmon caesar salad and Laura ordered a nachos deluxe. We had a nice time, eating, relaxing, and listening to the music they play over the loudspeakers in there. Having more time to kill, we went over to the used bookstore where I had trouble finding decent books that weren’t damaged by someone underlining and scribbling in the text with a pen or pencil. I finally found a good, clean copy of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and bought it with my previous store credit that Laura gave me in a certificate as a Christmas present.

After leaving the bookstore, Laura and I stopped over to Walgreen’s to check out the clearance isle. I stayed in the car and read the news on my iPhone while Laura went inside and shopped. She bought some toys and other gifts to give out next year at Christmas time. When we left there, it was almost time for Laura’s second appointment. We traveled across town and went over to the psychiatric facility where Laura sees her therapist. Her sessions are an hour long, and I told Laura that when she got called back that I wanted to wait for her in the car. She gave me the keys when Monica called her name, and Laura went in the back with her to her office.

I went to Laura’s car with my iPhone to get the latest on the current government shutdown. I have been reading in the New York Times and The Washington Post that President Trump spends a lot of time in the White House sitting in front of the television. This is what the administration terms “executive time”: sitting alone watching Fox News. When this year’s budget came up through the Democrat controlled House of Representatives, Trump started to back down on his promise to build a great wall on the southern border with Mexico in order to keep the government open, but then some commentators on Fox began to shame him for it. Commentator Ann Coulter went before the cameras and called him “gutless.”  After this, Trump demanded 5.7 billion dollars for the wall: he didn’t care if it was made of concrete or made of steel. The Democrats said no. Trump said he would be proud to shut down the government over this, for months, maybe years. He would even declare illegal immigration a national emergency, allowing the military pay to for the wall and to bypass Congress altogether.

President Trump had addressed the nation the previous night while I was in bed asleep, and I saw that it was posted on You Tube, along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s Democratic rebuttal. It came from NBC News, and I sat in the car and watched the fifteen minute video. Trump sat in the oval office and told us about a crisis that threatened the heart and soul of America. We have caravans of migrants climbing over our fences, bringing heroin into our country, committing murder and sex crimes. Just a little while ago, a policeman — one of America’s heroes — was murdered by an illegal immigrant. Another American was beaten to death with a hammer. In another notorious case, an illegal immigrant attacked his neighbor and cut his head clean off, then proceeded to chop off his arms and legs. Trump denied that his border wall was a manifestation of hate. He cited wealthy politicians who build walls around their property, not to keep people out, but to keep those whom they love inside. This was Trump’s paternal motivation: to keep Americans from being victimized by terrorists, drug dealers, killers and sex fiends who were invading our country.

After Trump finished talking, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer came on, sharing the same podium. They spoke one at a time. They claimed that the president’s words were full of malice, and a border wall project would be ineffective in securing the border and would be a colossal waste of money and resources. Their tone was adamant, with a sense of finality. They spoke of 800,000 federal workers who would not get their monthly paychecks this week because of the shutdown. These are people who live paycheck to paycheck, with mortgage payments, rent payments, car loans, and they also have to put food on the table. They reiterated that Trump said he would be proud to shut down this government to get money for a wall, a wall he said he would get Mexico to pay for.

After watching the video, I noticed that people posted thousands of comments on it. Most of them supported the barricade. One commentator summed it up quite succinctly. “Migration is not a human right,” she wrote. Another commentator from Canada described Trump’s words as those of a loving father, while the words and demeanor of Pelosi and Schumer were as stern and angry parents.

Laura returned as I was still reading all these comments. She sometimes gets emotional after her therapy sessions, and I asked if she was okay. She said she was. By this time, we were ready to go back home.

A Day in the Life

I’m doing much better since I wrote that short note to you yesterday. I’m no longer experiencing spasms in my lower back; the soreneness has shifted away from my spine and toward the side. That must be where the inflammation is. But besides that, I have been staying up a lot during the night lately, running on too much caffiene and not enough sleep. I finished one book and started another.

I walked downtown around mid-morning and went to the town hall to pay my utility bill. As I was leaving, I ran into my neighbor, Donnie. As soon as he saw me, he began to make conversation as best he could, talking rapidly and incoherently. Everyone in Robersonville knows Donnie, because he walks up to everyone and tries to talk to them. He has lived here all his life. “I’ll see you later,” I said, and walked away in the middle of his monologue, because if I continued to stand there, it would have gone on and on. I went from the town hall to the library, where I thought I would do some writing in a notebook I was carrying in my backpack. When I arrived there, I made conversation with the librarian, Sallie. We spoke of how the holiday season went for us. She told me that she and her boyfriend owned two dogs, and they both passed away in the same year; even though they have replaced them with new pets, Christmas just wasn’t the same. I told Sallie that the holidays for me were a bit stressful. I stayed at my mom’s house over the holidays, and there were five people with only one bathroom. There was no guest room either, so I had to sleep in the den upon a couch which folded out into a bed, and, there was a nine year old running around who was staying up all night, keeping me awake. I told Sallie that I was glad to be back into my regular routine again.

I sat in the library and tried to write, but it was crowded in there, with a lot of people going in and out, and a lot of talking going on. I couldn’t get my thoughts together, and I had an appointment to get my hair cut anyway, so I left after about a half-hour and walked down the street to the salon. When I arrived there, it was full of women and small children who were there just to sit and talk. I sat in the barber’s chair and Tammy gave me a buzz cut. She uses a blow dryer to get the loose hair particles out of my head and off my clothes, but I always have to wash my hair afterwards to rid myself of them. Tammy set me up with an appointment for next month and, as soon as I left, I called Laura.

She told me her home health worker was just leaving, and she was ready for me to come right over. She fed me some chicken and salad. We went into her bedroom, where we usually go to sit and talk, Laura lays upon the bed because of her bad back and legs and I sit in a recliner near the foot of her bed. I took my iPhone out and played some music. We chatted until Laura got sleepy. She had to go to her volunteer job at the food bank late this afternoon, and I told her I would call and wake her up when it was time for her to leave. I left her, wrapped up in her blankets as if she were in a cocoon, with her cat, Pumpkin, curled up at her feet. As I hugged her and said goodbye, she leaned over and kissed me, which was something she doesn’t do very often. I gave Pumpkin a gentle rub along his back, and then I left, locking the door behind me.

As soon as I got home, I got into the shower. I lathered up my head and rinsed it out. The water in the tub doesn’t drain out very well. I’ve called maintenance about it in the past and it is like putting a band-aid on a broken bone. What the property manager, Dail, really needs to do to fix this is to call a plumber, but as long as it doesen’t clog up completely, I can keep pouring Draino down the pipes and nothing else is going to get done about it. When I stepped out of the tub, I could see the loose hair floating around as the soapy water went slowly down the drain.

 

My Back is Killing Me

It’s been several days since I did something stupid in the shower and injured my back. I had heard that when you pick up something, instead of bending straight over, you should use your legs and squat. When I picked up that bar of soap, I just wasn’t thinking. I spoke to my mom over the phone and she mentioned the possibility of a slipped disc. I prayed to God that this wasn’t the case. I got my bike out of the shed the other day, but I couldn’t get on it. I’m walking better, though. Today the pain seems to have shifted from my spine to one of the muscles in my lower back, so that is a good sign. I don’t believe I’ve messed up my spine, but there is a possibility I might have to end up going to the doctor.

I must take better care of myself.

Time Passage

I just cannot believe that three days have marched by without a chance to write to you. Hopefully, you have already paid those holiday bills like I have. It’s like a big holiday hangover, but thank God it’s all over now. A lot of people complain about how a religious holiday has become so commercialized. Using the power of television and radio, Santa Claus symbols to manipulate children, and peer pressure to drive people into retail stores — and into debt — impels us to turning these wheels of commerce and driving the engine of our economy. Economics is a dismal science, just like politics right now.

The flag at the post office is still flying at half-staff, for the Democrats and the Republicans still cannot agree on a budget. President Trump wants 5.7 billion dollars to build a concrete barrier on our southern border to keep out what he calls hispanic “rapists, drug dealers, and criminals” from swarming in. The news media needs a monster we must hate and fear: once it was the communists, then it was terrorists, and now it is illegal immigrants who they say are coming to destroy us. Trump said today that he would shut down the government for months — or maybe even years — if the Democrats continue to say no to him. This is the most frightening situation of all.

I saw a cartoon online about how the mass media caters to the will of society’s elites, and how it all works together to manufacture consent among the general population. It piqued my curiosity, and I read two books by Noam Chomsky on which this YouTube video was based. Professor Chomsky is all over the internet, giving lectures and appearing on talk shows on Aljazeera and Russia Today. When I first became exposed to his thought, as he sat there deconstructing American myths that the masses are taught were true, I was quite skeptical. He certainly takes advantage of his freedom of speech. I thought to myself if he was so disenchanted with America, why wouldn’t he just move out? “Because he knows how good he’s got it here!” was my quick reply. But its more complicated than that. The superpowers are locked in a geopolitical struggle. Moving away to find moral values in another government is a losing proposition.

The migrant caravans from Central America that President Trump loathes and hates, are traveling here to escape the violence and poverty caused by US policies to exploit them. Professor Chomsky demonstrated in his books, that the news media adheres to a “propaganda model,” and this model was to fight communism, to encourage the peasants to accept democracy. What we actually did was to spread violence by funding terrorist groups, pitting one little country against another, and facilitating a massive transfer of wealth to the Empire of the North. Now the people down there think they can walk to America to escape their misery, to come to the land of milk and honey. But instead they will be vilified in the media, be subject to the border patrol’s culture of cruelty, and end up abandoned by them with no place to go, maybe in the middle of a parking lot or at bus station, when the detention centers become full and bursting with dehydrated and starving people.

I heard a professor from Yale talk about what he termed “social justice warriors,” but this is just a label that you can place on a person to obscure the truth. He said that these social justice warriors do not want to let people who disagree with them speak at all, but will drown them out with all their noise. The fact of the matter is that he has to marginalize certain people who disagree with him, the very people who would threaten his privilege, or take things from him for the common good. It is part of the great power struggle in a fractured fellowship.

I’m not writing about this anymore. Enough has been said. I’m finished with Chomsky’s moralistic writings, and I’m ready to start my next book. After my morning readings and talking to mom and Laura on the phone, I got into the shower. I bent down to pick up the soap and I sprained one of the vertebrae in my lower back. I walk funny now, but it’s getting better.

 

 

New Year’s Day

What did you do for new year’s eve? As for me, I went to bed early, woke up early, and found a book to get wrapped up in as the sun came up. It is traditional at this time to take stock of our lives and make resolutions for the future. I think my most important resolution is to be more independent, and not to expect too much out of Laura. Neither one of us are normal people, and I can’t expect her to relate to me as a normal person. As for me, I will try to keep my eccentricities in check and maybe try to meet new people. I will also cut down on my consumption of the news and the mass media, adhering to the great ideas of civilization, and realizing that it may be impossible to get to the real truth.

I got finished reading an essay by Aldous Huxley, entitled Brave New World Revisited, where he discussed advertising and mind bending propaganda. It was written back in the 1950’s, and his thought is typical of the intelligentsia in the post-war era. He was impressed by the effectiveness of Nazi propaganda upon a large population of people. He spoke of subliminal messages embedded in a single frame of a motion picture, which could influence the unconscious mind, to control a person’s cravings and behavior. I heard of this when I was very young; I don’t think it really works as Huxley claims it might. His thought was also clouded by the debunked pseudoscience of eugenics, which claims a hierarchy of worth for human beings. I was expecting something more profound from this writer, but I concluded that he was merely a man of his times.

I had checked this book out from the Bethel library, and I decided that today was the perfect opportunity to return it. I tried on the sweat pants my mom bought me for Christmas, and changed my mind about them. They didn’t look ridiculous on me at all, but were quite comfortable, with zippers on the pockets which would securely keep my wallet, my keys, and my phone in place while riding my bicycle. After taking my mountain bike out of the shed, I looked up at the sky and saw ripples of heavy, dark clouds; but I checked the weather app on my iPhone and there was no rain in the forecast.

Bethel is a small town the size of Robersonville, located ten miles from us. Economic depression has almost turned Bethel into a ghost town. Once a thriving community, the downtown area is now nothing but empty store fronts. The grocery store shut down ten years ago, the only doctor left town, and the bank has closed its doors. The library looks like a converted train depot, located just beside the train tracks, and now it is only opened two afternoons a week. A lonely secondary road let me to it, as I rode against the unseasonably warm breeze with my library book in my backpack. It took me a little over an hour to arrive there. Everything in town looked deserted. I put the book in the book drop.

Laura  slept most of the day and called me in the late afternoon. I came over and we had some fried chicken legs. She wouldn’t eat but one, but she gave me three. I stayed there until dark, and she gave me a bag of frozen food to take home.

Another Day at the Shopping Center

Ever since my stepfather died several years ago, I’ve made it a point to telephone my mother every morning except Sunday. Today was Saturday. When she answered the phone, we made some small talk and she asked if I had tried on the outfit she bought me for Christmas. I replied that I hadn’t, but I could tell just by looking at it that it would fit me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was much too old to wear something like that and look normal. At least I could wear the pants while riding my bike without attracting too much attention.

Laura called later, saying that she wanted to go shopping again to see what was in the clearance aisle. I agreed to it, even though I didn’t have any more money to spend. On the way to Greenville, we passed the post office and saw that the flag was at half-staff. It was because the government was still shut down. When we arrived at the Target store, I told Laura to go ahead and shop; I would get a latte at Starbucks and hang out there. I bought a small chocolate mocha and sat down with my iPhone. I pressed the news app with my finger, the headlines popped up, and I started reading. I went from one news article to another, going from one newspaper to another, from one news outlet to another, travelling from link to link as I drank my coffee. This activity could be termed “the prostitution of the American mind.”

I called Laura and located her by the Christmas ornaments. “Is there anything in this store that you want?” she asked.

“I’ve already bought the only thing I wanted, and paid too much for it,” was my emphatic reply.

“Don’t they let you have refills?”

“What? Starbucks?” I scoffed, “No, never. If you go in there without buying anything, they’ll call the police!”

We left Target and after going to a couple of other stores, I looked down at my feet and noticed that one of the holes, that which my shoe laces went though, had ripped out. Brand new pair of shoes. Now I would have to take them back to the store with the box and the receipt to return them. I was incredibly frustrated.