LIVING IN THE BODY  Part One

LIVING IN THE BODY  Part One

Artistic Anatomy

If you raise a totally healthy boy and a girl, help them through their fevers and colds, provide them with healthcare if they get strep throat or a severe flu, I believe they will not relate to their bodies in the same way when they are seventeen.

The female will be more in tune with hers than the male. Why, you may ask. Well, early on she learns about menstruation. Well yes, you respond, but males have things happening to them too! Yes, that’s true.  But the girl is better prepared to live in her body. Why, you ask again. Because she becomes familiar with blood.

WE LEARN TO LIVE IN THE WORLD 

From our first breath, we live inside our bodies. As babies we lie in wonder of air and light, the beginnings of sight and sound, as we gradually determine that our mothers are not part of us–but that our hand is. And that we have these two appendages we learn are our legs with other appendages we learn are our feet. My daughter Christine was toeing in at six months and had to wear special shoes to prevent a future problem. Did she fuss? No. At that time, it was all part of the progression of living.

As babies, we learn that sucking with the mouth nourishes us, that crying brings comfort and warm touches.

We have no language to define any of this, but we have instinct and that drives our need for food, comfort, warmth and dryness. If these needs are not met, we know how to kick and scream. After all, we came into this world kicking and screaming, and if fortunate, we were immediately given warmth, comfort and eventually food.

BECOMING MORE INDEPENDENT 

The developing infant is not aware of the need to urinate and defecate. It is only through growth, the awareness of being wet and uncomfortable, that increases awareness of the body and helps our parents teach us good toilet habits.

Hunger and thirst determine how we experience the hours of the day. We cry for the breast or the bottle. We wake up when we are hungry, and as we grow, we might even climb on a rickety stool to get to the cookie jar.

Hunger is that first human drive that establishes some sense of time in our lives, but then begins the long process of establishing balance and moderation. Even children can over-eat, leading to weight-gain, poor coordination and poor self-image. (But note, the inability to eat wisely can be a problem throughout life, one that hinders health and can lead to health problems and even early death.)

ADAPTATION  

Another capability of humans is adaptation. If we lose a leg or an arm, over time we learn to adapt to that loss. We might have a prosthetic device to aid us, but the very fact of losing part of one’s anatomy demands a great deal of physical and psychic energy to grasp at life, to go on. But surely, humans are survivors.

A deaf child compensates by placing hands on the throat of a speaking person to feel the vibrations. Blind children use their hands to explore the world and turn their heads to pick up the sounds that alert them to the world around them. But compensation is not a good idea in an adult who truly is having difficulty seeing or hearing but refuses to wear glasses or hearing aids.

A chronically ill child will not accept a parent saying that he or she is “just fine.” Deep within the psyche, the child will put things together, and often better accept this change in his or her life than the parents. Honesty is the best way to go. 

AGING AND ACCEPTANCE

What I do question, and would love your thoughts concerning this—is that as we age, why does our ability to accept death and dying become even harder for us? It is the long span of health, independence, and our functioning that disallows us to acknowledge that we are mortal and that we will die? As Wordsworth wrote in his poem, Intimation of Immortality, maybe children do arrive in this world:

But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

Or is it because children do not have as firm a stake in the world as adults have. Throughout life, all of us must compensate and adapt. Sometimes it is only for a short while.

I wore bandages on both eyes for a week after eye surgery. I was only five.  A friend developed MS, Multiple Sclerosis. Her ability to compensate and adapt now colors her entire life. If we lose an arm, we are still the same person. That hasn’t changed us.

Nor have the scars of a traffic accident or a fire–we are integrally the same person, now needing to sorrow over our loss, go through the struggle to adjustment, form that altered person we now present to the world, though inside we have not truly changed. And it is horrible and wrong when someone might label us, the speaker doing so to distance himself from what could also happen to him–a human and deep-seated fear.

DEALING WITH PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES 

Maybe we instinctively know that our bodies are fragile. From the beginning, we crave distance from the pain and suffering of others. But as a child, I did not realize I could give pain to someone else when I wanted to look away from their suffering.

Maybe I found my way into nursing to better understand that reaction, to acknowledge, to be more open. I believe that each of us, no matter the shape of our body, the losses or problems we might live with, deserves the acknowledgement of a whole human being. Thus I have learned not to run and open doors for the handicapped, unless explicitly asked to do so. Once I approached a blind man, telling him that the usual entrance to the mall was blocked by decorations. He whirled on me, told me he knew exactly where he was going. I had invaded his space. In that particular situation, I was wrong.

Do we take for granted our bodies and how to care for them?  

Thanks to Artistic Anatomy for the lovely art.

 

A Woman’s Love Fires Awareness: Breathe

A Woman's Love Fires Awareness: Breathe

Sometimes it’s a circuitous road to knowledge; sometimes it’s a circuitous road to invention.

THE START: I loved Claire Foy in THE CROWN;
Now she plays the role of Diana Cavendish in the 2017 film BREATHE.
So I rented it and my husband and I were enthralled.
The film is the story of Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) who in 1958 was struck with Polio while living in Kenya, his wife Diana pregnant with their first child. Polio paralyzed Robin from the neck down and over time did allow him to speak. But Robin could not breathe on his own and thus had to be chained to a respirator for the rest of his life.
THE MIDDLE: Robin wished for death. But pregnant Diana visited him frequently in the hospital ward where he lay staring at the ceiling. Finally, she brought him his newborn child, a son. Robin still wanted to die. But Diana’s love persisted, and soon Robin began to smile and enjoyed having his son lay close to his face. He could smell the newborn, watch him grow as his depression started to fall away.
But Diana wanted him home. The head of the Kenyan Hospital said no. He would die in weeks. Diana persisted, and with the help of another doctor she and a group of nurses wheeled him out of the ward, the respirator still attached.
THE FINISH: Robin Cavendish lived with his family to the age of 64. Step by step, the years were good to him, because Diana, with technology constantly improving, gave him constant love and encouraged him to accept his life. Robin moved from a bed to a large wheel chair equipped with a battery-operated respirator. A truck was refigured so that he could travel. A plane bore his truck to Spain so that he could again see the world. Over time, he and Diana took on the mantel of spreading the word, so that the men he had known in the Kenyan hospital were also able to leave and be with family, live their lives.
But the most amazing part of the film for me, occurred when the couple traveled to Germany, Robin to speak to a large group of physicians who were working with the disabled. In order to get to the hall where he would speak, he had to ascend an elevator in his chair. The chair could not fit through the opening. So, they actually pulled framing from the elevator door so that Robin could access the lift.
INVENTION: THE BRAIN LIGHTS UP: people with disabilities can travel in wheel chairs, even use portable respirators, but fix the damn elevators to accommodate those chairs!
 
A WOMAN’S LOVE AND WHAT IT ACCOMPLISHES
The son that Robin and Diana had is Jonathan, now a film producer who runs the company Imagination Studios with actor/director Andy Serkis. Jonathan commissioned writer William Nicholson to create the screenplay that would present his father’s life and work. Breathe appeared in 2017.
Jonathan related  the reason that his father decided to claim his life and go on helping disabled people world-wide. He said that at first Robin was eager to have them “turn off the machine”–telling Diana, “You can start again,” But then Jonathan recounts, “She wasn’t having any of it.” Thus through love and encouragement and the industry of inventors and thinkers, Robin went on living and in the process helped so many others.
  • In the 1960s Robin tracked down and listed the circumstances of all the responauts ( a person permanently dependent upon a ventilator to maintain breathing.) This became the first record of the number of people confined to iron lungs in Great Britain.
  • In 1962, working with his friend Teddy Hall, an Oxford University professor, they created a wheelchair with a built-in respirator. Over his lifetime, Robin used a total of 10 different chairs, each improving his quality of life.
  • Robin raised money for the first group of chairs, eventually persuading what was then called the British Department of Health to fund a series of chairs manufactured by Teddy Hall’s company, Littlemore Scientific Engineering.
  • Robin also worked with scientists at Stoke Mandeville Hospital to create what was called THE POSSUM. It allowed users to use the telephone, turn on the TV and adjust heating controls with only the left-right turn of one’s head.
  • Robin also raised money so that others in his condition could travel.

MORE THOUGHTS

In today’s world, many people with disabilities live lives that are so productive, they make me feel like a slacker. Consider: Stephen Hawking; Franklin Roosevelt; Marlee Matlin; Tammy Duckworth; Itzhak Perlman and Harriet Tubman.

Since the new administration has come on board, the fight to continue to help disabled Americans has increased. We need everyone to step up when they can and help people with disabilities live lives that enable them to function, work, travel and enjoy what society has to offer. So, Thanks for reading. And please check out the following which was sent to me by a dear friend. This is his niece. Raising awareness is so important.

P.S. This year I’m turning 30 on the 30th (how did that happen!?) One of my birthday wishes is to live in a world free of HD. (HD is Huntington’s Disease.) Too many people have suffered at the hands of this disease and it’s very personal for me. Let’s find a cure. I don’t think that’ll be coming true this year, but I am confident and have faith that one day it can. In lieu of birthday gifts, I’m on a mission to raise $5,000 to go to our Austin Hope Walk benefitting the HDSA. Would you make a donation – in the amount most meaningful to you – so I can reach my goal? Could you give me an extra bump by sharing the link with anyone you know of?  

Thank you in advance all for your support!