No more Afraid: the hidden mystery of Health (1/3)

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“You know what’s going to happen next, don’t you” said George, in the middle of a news bulletin, at the start of the UK’s roll-out of the vaccination programme in early 2021, with the promise of a way out of the ‘greatest public health crisis for a century’. George could see a new problem coming: “Politics will walk all over biology. Another scrap between political egos will ensue. And the people will once again be scattered, like seed to the wind”.

During the post-Christmas 2020 lull, George’s thoughts had returned to dwelling on what Santiago and Lucija had had to say about Nature. Soon he had found himself reading with more and more keenness anything he could find on herd immunity, vaccines and vaccine modes of functioning.

“It’s not at all obvious” he chimed on, occasionally casting his eyes towards Patricia, who had had to adapt quickly to George’s new-found interest in the immune response. “I mean, OK, so it’s like the vaccine does very well at tricking the body into getting the antibodies ready that neutralise the virus” he continued “But it still sounds to me a little one-sided, like the pharmaceutical industry thinks they are the ones who have all the knobs and switches to control all this.” He paused, with that characteristic quizzical look on his face. “Then again, I suppose it’s still better than all this ‘let’s wop the disease’ rhetoric”.

Though George appeared, outwardly, to be just as bogged down with the drudgery of télétravail as he had been in late 2020, Patricia noted flashes of the light of optimism coming into his thinking him since the New Year. “No doubt this is some of George’s post 21 December 2020 effect,” she lovingly reflected one day when she found some of his scribbled notes on a post-it in the kitchen, full of arrows and squiggles, and the words ‘significant event’.

But Patricia couldn’t help thinking that George was still trying hard to reconcile something in his mind.

“Maybe it was this ‘Nature and humankind’ and ‘We are more than Nature’ obsession’ he’d picked up from Santiago, or, as she preferred to think, “Maybe he’s just trying to regain that affable home-life work balance he once had.” After all, George had always been so good at keeping them apart. Now, work was definitely the heavier partner, as if it was leaving life’s legs dangling in the air on the see-saw of existence, waiting for the work load to lighten or someone to help bring normality back down to earth.

Whatever it was, Patricia felt George’s inner turmoil was keeping them apart. While George’s contradictions were so often such a fetching part of his personality, all this going on and on about reconciling things only served to make her feel distant from him, as if he was holding something, and himself, back from her.

The only thing was, George wasn’t going to give up easily on his contradictions.

“This whole pandemic thing shows us it’s not just Nature all on her own, we humans are a part of Nature, we make Nature more complete” he rumbled on. “That’s if humankind wants to. Because we’re oh so good at separating things, most of all at separating ourselves from Nature. All this talk of the virus somehow ‘against us’ marks differences; differences foster alienation; alienation fuels fear; and so we stop taking in the whole and we end up in another right mess fighting each other’s fears!”

Patricia listened to this sort of thing on repeated occasions, alert to the irony that George was the one keeping her apart from him. She consoled herself that it must be her ‘dearest George’ struggling to find his own way out of the spiritual impasse he seemed to have got himself into. 

“So what exactly are you driving at, George?” retorted Patricia, in an attempt to stem George’s drift into dilemma, after several days of this New Year rant.

George gathered his thoughts and dropped the tone of his voice.

“I can’t help thinking there must be some up-side to passing through a disease. Couldn’t the self-doubt, the hallucinations and the fear that go with a bout of high fever be some sort of test? Some sort of catharsis that an individual has to go through to come out of? An overcoming, to become a new person, an even better person, on the other side?”

“You’re starting to sound like one of those ‘herd immunity’ types like that Doctor Witty fellow on the BBC…” chirped Patricia, adding “…not that he ever says anything funny!” But far from her comment lightening the conversation, George went on, deeper.

“No,” he said in an unusually sharp register, which surprised both Patricia and himself, “don’t you see, the doctors advising us what to do in this situation are all too one-sided. However much they say they are concerned for people’s well-being, they only deal with the materiality of the disease, not the non-physical side, the people side of it, if you like. By their own admission, they avoid the psychological aspects of all this and leave it to the politicians to decide on what they call the ‘social’ consequences, as if the politicians had some sort of special insight into the meaning of life!”

Spurred on by his revived memories of Santiago ‘that impudent young man’ and his ‘Life and Death are one whole’ motto, and sweet Lucija’s ‘Go with the flow of Nature’, George had been searching for anything hidden he could find on-line about ‘health-disease-nature’, anything to fill the void he was experiencing between his jumbled-up feelings and what he called the politicians’ “One-dimension line-to-take” on the pandemic.

One of George’s finds on the internet had visibly locked him in thought. “Ah, they’re calling him an objective idealist, whatever that is” he was thinking as he scrolled through an article about ‘Some chap called Gadamer’ who had written years ago about the limits of an overly technical approach to medicine.

“You’re telling me, Mr. Gadamer! That we need ‘more practical judgment and personal interpretation in medicine’! If that’s what objective idealism is, I’m in!”, George announced to himself, as he read on about how Gadamer had even come to the belief that Nature itself provides the best remedy for illnesses. “You say health is some sort of ‘inner accord relative to nature’s ‘self-maintaining and self-restoring totality’, Mr Gadamer. Why, that sounds like Santiago’s take on things, if you ask me.”

It wasn’t the first time George himself had chewed over the paradox of why the object of attention of doctors is so rarely health itself. “There’s a built-in bias in medicine, the only people most doctors see are ill,” he would often quip, whenever the subject came up. But his long-standing call for ‘What we need is more health prevention’ wasn’t quite what he had learnt these days from Gadamer.

“You seem to be on to something else with this ‘hidden mystery of health’ thing of yours,” pondered George, “Do you really believe what you say, that recovery from a period of disease is some sort of return to equilibrium, return to a temporary whole, Mr Gadamer?” George thought on.

‘Equilibrium’ was the last word Patricia would have used to describe George’s behaviour that spring.

She was happier he was no longer so often down, but the ups seemed to be giving way to bigger downs, and it was all getting a bit too much for her to keep up with.

“The way things are going with COVID…” George threw out over breakfast one morning, “…society doesn’t seem want to know what this ‘hidden mystery of health’ thing is, does it? All the stories are about those who ‘succumb’ to the disease or those that ‘survive’. Nobody on the telly seems to be making documentaries about those who are healthy”. “But I guess they wouldn’t know how to start the interview. Good morning, sir, how are you? Fine. How do you stay healthy? I haven’t a clue, I just live my life. Well, that’s a mystery, isn’t it. End of programme. No record viewing figures to have from that, are there?”

Patricia looked non-plussed, wondering to herself where George was going now.

“But I guess the longer this pandemic lasts, the more it will change us. And maybe one day each of us will stumble across the key to Gadamer’s health mystery,” added George with an indifferent shrug of his shoulders.

The couple sat silently, while George’s own ramblings led him to recall Patricia’s father’s death, after a long, debilitating illness, a few years earlier. George had been perplexed each time Arnold told him he thought Death was ‘Just a slipping away. It’s like a big white blank.’

George had known Arnold as a very calm, respectful, self-effacing man, who had faced death with the same stoicism which had governed his life.

“But what, Arnold” had thought George later that evening “am I to do when you say it’s all going to end with a big, white blank?” Arnold’s devotion to his own idea of death seemed, to George, to leave the whole matter up in the air.

“We will never understand the nature of Death, if we avoid thinking and talking about it” George had determined at the time but that was before COVID. Now, with fears of plague in the air, he wished he could chat a bit further with Arnold, to find out if he’d really seen the big white blank ‘on the other side’. “Then again,” thought George “humankind’s gone further than needing a polite conversation of this. Now we all need some hard talk and stop skirting round the central issue here” he had said repeatedly over the last year.

“The mystery of Death. Yes, and with it, the mystery of Health and the mystery of Fear,” mused George.

This entry was posted in Afraid no longer, Mark, Observing Brussels. Bookmark the permalink.

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