Thursday, June 30, 2011

Witch Doctors?

I had to go to the hospital yesterday with my son for a small but annoying problem. While I was sitting waiting I thought about the hocus-pocus of medicine and about why we need ritual and ceremony during a healing experience.

We went to the Emergency Ward and my son was poked and prodded for an hour or so until the nurse said we had to go to the clinic in the next town. We drove down and, after doing some paperwork, we sat in a small, hot waiting room for three hours until we were admitted to see the doctor. The waiting room was uncomfortable, the chairs were hard, the other patients were anxious. Once we got into the room, the doctor was wearing a green outfit, and a young woman assisting him was wearing white. Strange-looking instruments were produced. When the young woman hit my son on the head with the metal basin, nobody laughed. Only when the doctor's cell phone started singing a White Stripes song from his pocket did my son finally crack. The doctor asked "Why do you laugh"?

The last time I went was for a series of tests a few months ago (all good!). That time, the mystique was much more serious. I had an ultrasound first. I went to the clinic, paid my money, and sat for a while in the obligatory waiting room. My name was called and I was led into a small cubicle where I had to remove all my clothes and put on a little paper gown. I was allowed to bring my purse into the examination room, where a technician smeared me with a cold blue substance and then pushed a magic wand onto my abdomen. This went on for about twenty minutes until she handed me a small tissue, told me I could leave, and left the room. I ineffectually wiped some of the blue gel off and then stickily tried to find my room. My bladder was bursting as I had not been allowed to pee since the morning. I found my room, my clothes, and the bathroom and left the clinic.

A week later I was in a similar room but this was a co-ed changing room in a public hospital. The gowns were cloth but didn't fit around the back. I was tilted on a hard table and a heavy object was placed over my pelvis. Everyone left the room. A few minutes later they came back in and said I could leave.

A few weeks later I went to my doctor and she said everything was okay. Yea! The blue goo, the isolation room, the magic wand, and the heavy object cured me!

Not so far from reality, really. Maybe all I needed was some ritual, some magic, someone knowing more than I about the mystery of my own body. Perhaps I just needed someone to say "Everything is fine - your body works". Maybe I needed to feel vulnerable in a paper gown so that I could fully comprehend how scared I was of something being really wrong.

We can't know in the end what heals and what doesn't - and why some cures work for some people and not for others. Or who will not be cured in the end, and who will walk away. For this reason, it is important to have an open mind, to accept the rituals, no matter how annoying they may seem. And to remember to do no harm.

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