February is the adjectivest month

Influenza stalks Paradise this month. The health department has finally admitted that the flu status is “widespread,” and the emergency rooms are filling up with wheezing patients and the news crews that love them.

The worst of our influenza season falls in this half-Spring every year. The season see-saws between bright sunny butterfly-and-hummingbird days and windblown drizzle under grey. This has got to be harder on the butterflies but we hate it too. Be consistent! we yell and wave our tiny fists at whichever sky we’ve got that day.

Either I’m getting the influenza myself or it’s just postmodern anxiety. Exhaustion and dissociation are associated with both conditions, so the differential will be made with a thermometer before I go to bed.

Have you ever met a ghost of yourself? I met one today, and it’s been a few years. I saw myself as a very young child — like the one in the icon for this entry — playing on the floor in this house. The tile was different then, and because at close range each tile looked like a city block, I was driving a little Matchbox car along the street with my hand. No doubt there were vrooming noises. At one point in the journey the car encountered a furniture leg and whacked to a stop. Instead of going around, I just kept whacking the little toy car against the wood until some adult told me to knock it off.

And tonight I saw that kid in the dining room.

Maybe it’s the influenza.

My neurologist’s business card had an url on the back

…from an online video site. I worried for a moment, and then went there. He’s one of their experts, which I guess is their thing. His stuff there is all about Parkinsons Disease and I fortunately do not have that. But here’s his personal intro:

VideoJug: Neal Hermanowicz

I like the pin he has. He said it was a healing hand from some Natives in New Mexico.

He’s a good guy.

Not in the stars, but in ourselves

Whatever else Susan Sontag did, she gets a ticket into heaven for Illness as Metaphor (link to isbn.nu).

For those who haven’t read this invaluable little book, here’s a thumbnail: She looks at medical conditions are treated as moral problems instead of as diseases. Her examples are tuberculosis and cancer, and in a later supplement, AIDS.

The telling point she makes is this: If an illness is both threatening and mysterious, so that it can kill or disable at any time but is not understood or curable, its cause will be assigned to something socially determined. TB was thought to result from too passionate and expressive a personality, and sufferers were told to lie down and stop reading poetry and having romances. Later, cancer was ascribed to holding in , and patients were blamed for not expressing themselves.

In both of these cases an inexplicable affliction was linked to a social prejudice, and without evidence this was accepted. And in both cases the patient’s behavior was blamed. It’s easy to see why AIDS was added in her supplement. Another mysterious and threatening ailment was entirely blamed on moral and social problems, so that the actual biological problems were poorly investigated and patients were blamed and ostracized.

Since cancer and AIDS are still deadly and mysterious in affluent societies, the problem remains. Any theory that presents a moral enemy as the cause of these diseases will be accepted by the appropriate group. If your group dislikes pharmaceutical companies, governments, synthetic chemicals, homosexuals, meat, science itself, or any other socially contentious force, then moral certainty will be applied to medical uncertainty.

Some of these fears may be accurate. Cancers can be caused by trace amounts of metals or chemicals, or by radiation. Birth defects and crippling illnesses result from exposure to toxins and infectious agents in pregnancy. People did get AIDS because governments and medical agencies chose not to screen transfused blood, and people died of AIDS because of malign neglect by the same authorities.

But the problem remains technical at its heart, and not moral. Sassafras oil is a natural herbal carcinogen. Deadly nuclear radiation can cure cancer. AIDS doesn’t care if your behavior is socially approved; it justs kills you. Magical thinking will sometimes solve your problem, but it’s more likely to make things worse for yourself and others.

A post today by ofmonsters reminded me of some of the current villains in the alt-culture world: vaccination, cow’s milk, refined sugar, white flour, processed foods, the Western diet, gluten, “toxins,” etc.

Some of the things in this list are bad news for people with particular medical problems. Other things in this list are worthy of investigation for basic personal health: too much processed food and dairy and a diet rich in meat will in general make people less healthy, for example. And some of them are meaningless. “Toxins,” for example, always refers to some nebulous and poorly defined environmental evil that must be cleansed, rather than to actual known toxic substances, all of which are different from each other. White flour has less fiber in it, but is not otherwise evil. Refined white sugar and brown sugar and honey and rice syrup have different flavors but provide the same dangerous blast of calories.

The vaccination fear is paranoiac. Vaccination is a symbol of government power, scientific arrogance, and threats to children. In a state of ignorance it’s understandable that someone would fear this. Without vaccination we have piles of dead children and later piles of dead adults. It’s not negotiable. Tagging vaccines with autism (another poorly understood and incurable affliction) gave the whole counterculture a perfect condensed symbol for their dislike of white coats, compulsory medical treatment, and the medical-industrial complex. But they’re wrong, and being wrong about vaccination threatens everyone.

What I have to say to these fearful people is this.

1) Read Sontag, or at least work at understanding the concepts she talks about. Watch out for moral certainty when you’re solving medical problems.

2) Your fears of government, pharmaceutical companies, toxic substances, radiation, bad diets, dangerous assumptions built into Western culture, and the centralized corporate meat-centric incompetent business of Big Food are all completely legitimate. There are deadly problems and bad people and very poorly organized institutions.

So we do have big problems, and the problems are similar in kind to the ones you’re seeing. The problems, however, do not result from science. They result from bad engineering and wickedness. The scientific method is how we know these things went wrong. That’s why we know that heavy metals in our food are bad, and that factory farming kills, and that it’s better to cut down on the cow’s milk and eat more fiber, and that cancer can result from contamination of food and water.

The scientific method is also why we know that vaccination is a good idea, that sassafras is a carcinogen even though it’s natural, that “toxins” means many different things and not one, that chelation is a dangerous treatment for specific situations, and that white sugar and honey will give a diabetic the same dangerous load of concentrated calories. It’s also how we found out that stomach ulcers were often caused by an infection and not by “stress.”

The antidote to unreasoned panic is not less science, but more. The scientific method is, to paraphrase Churchill, the worst way of interpreting illness except for all of the other methods tried. This includes the method Sontag clearly outlines. If someone says that the illness is due to “stress” or “toxins” or “Western diet” or “gay lifestyle” or “the government,” stop and watch closely.

Choosing an attractive moral or social cause for your terrifying unexplained problem may feel satisfying. Don’t take the bait.

THE MOTHER OF ALL BUTTLES

The “health” “plan” from my last job has still not paid any of the claims from February to March of this year.

Today I got a bill from a collection agency for an $800+ charge, now with added interest.

A month ago I spoke to a “rapid resolution expert” at the health plan who was shocked, shocked at the lack of payment and pressed lots of buttons and told me it would be resolved in 30 days.

Nothing was done.

Today I spoke to another “rapid resolution expert” who was even more shocked and promised me a written response in 48 hours and resolution within ten business days. He gave me a magic string of digits which supposedly will make the collection agency back off.

Once again let me observe that I am at the very top of the privilege ladder here, and I’m getting reamed really hard.

Morning.

pigurines

I went to two doctors today, both for minor reasons. Both at Newport Center.

These doctors’ offices are full of very old, tremulously decrepit white men in cheerful retirement clothing. They’re in aloha shirts and khaki shorts and running shoes, slowly dying.

The parking lot has a very low clearance. This results in comedy with SUVs. One patient made it in driving a Suburban; another with slightly larger tires did not, providing a condensed symbol of the Californian relationship with cars and a satisfying crunchy noise.

The pharmaceutical rep in the waiting room was qualified as a fashion model: almost six foot, slender, leggy, cheekboned and coiffed. Thieves and murderers always send out the best courtesans.

I did not buy the pigurines in the pharmacy window.

The Castle

So my shoulder hurts, and I went to the doctor. And we tried a couple things and they didn’t work. So he sent me to the MAN! Super-neurologist. Pain specialist. That guy was indeed a skilled and professional physician. He tried a very special thing and it didn’t work.

So then the MAN said that there was a higher, more esoteric, almost hermetic knowledge held by one whose feet he was not worthy to clean, and sent me to him, with the warning “it can take a while.” Since the MAN himself was hard to see, I was full of the fear of this sage’s appointment queue, and today I nerved myself up to call.

September 22. (Forty years in the desert.) I made the appointment. I also made a “start over” appointment with my humble yet proficient physician, and let the MAN know how high the peak and how covered in mist, and the terrible length of the journey.

My brother told me to get tested for the autoimmune problem that has made his life hell. Hey, why not?

I’m still a little upset that the nature of my ailment makes mall shooting sprees difficult. I could shoot lefty but I hate brass in my teeth, and I can’t even use a machete too well without my right hand. I guess I’ll have to go amok slapping people, or kicking them like the Black Night in Holy Grail.. Suck.

MY POISON INJECTION IS HERE! MY POISON INJECTION IS HERE!

I’m getting the botulism shot into my neck and shoulder today at 11:45.

Instead of having Allergan and my insurance company approve everything I’m just going to bring this swelled-up can of oysters.

Actually. when the doctor’s office called me this morning she said that it turns out for this diagnosis no preapproval is needed. So the whole second half of this nightmare was unnecessary. She boggled at this because of the number of units of poison needed; it’s a first time for that.

So wish me luck. I’m getting a few $900 injections today that may or may not give me back my God-damned arm.