Saturday, July 23, 2011


I have a cousin who is addicted to crack. Our family has struggled to understand how he could have made the choices that forced his life into a downward spiral. We discuss what approaches to take, limitations to set, anything to help Beck come back. But he doesn't want to. He lies, manipulates and steals, neglecting his children and watching his debt grow.

It's heartbreaking to see my aunt weep, grieving at the loss of her son and fearing for the welfare of her grandchildren. Their mother died of an overdose two years ago and Beck has sole custody. Though his house could be featured on an episode of Hoarders and his electricity and water are periodically shut off, he doesn't fall below the threshold of what is unacceptable to Social Services and so his children remain with him.

I see his jittery hyperactivity and the tracks on his arms when he comes to ask me for money; his electricity, water, phone etc are about to be shut off. I see the boy I played with as a child, catching snakes and salamanders, climbing trees and building forts.

My patient tonight, a woman with liver failure, is febrile and having seizures from alcohol withdrawal. Sedated, she didn't move when I took her vitals and washed her up. I was tender, reverent when I rolled her to her side to clean stool from her bottom and salve with protective ointment. Though she was alone, I could see the child that she was and the people who love her despite the abuse she gave to her own body. I hoped that my cousin would be treated gently when he crashes and is brought to a hospital unit like mine.

I swam tonight, alone in a crook of the river. I could feel the water against my body and the freedom of my limbs. I flew, buoyed by the water, unhindered by gravity. I love my body. It is the only house that the essence of me will have. I am amazed sometimes when I look at my arm, think about its function and then raise it purposefully, only to demonstrate to myself that my mind has control of it. I'm telekinetic with my own body. It does what my mind tells it to.

I could wax poetic, citing Descartes and his mind-body dichotomy, but I'm a Spinoza girl. I see the physical connection, calcium released and synapses firing, between my thoughts and the movement of my arm. It works beautifully and I don't want to mess it up.

I'll have a glass of wine with dinner and a scotch on special occasions. I love the taste, the dimension, the artistry that can be found with alcoholic beverages. I've even been happily intoxicated on occasion.

There's a turning point, a threshold that people pass when they immerse themselves completely into habits that destroy the function of their body.

I wash bodies for a living. Every day, I help someone to eat, walk, communicate or clean themselves. I hold reverence for their bodies and the function those bodies have in housing the special being that makes the individual. I'm gentle even when the patient is not. It's a gift to be there cushioning the body, encouraging someone to respect the majesty of their own body when they don't see it themselves.

I treat the open wounds of my patient tonight. I hope that she wakes from her sedation and recrosses that threshold into a place where she respects the gift of her body. I hope that my cousin rediscovers his own gift before he destroys it completely .

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