The Body as a Site of Competition

The Sumerian god Ningizzida was the patron of ...Image via Wikipedia

I just finished watching “The Biggest Loser” and opened up my reader to find this post by Horace at To Delight and Instruct. Although I personally judge myself and compare my body to others’, I’d never thought of how the medical profession might contribute to this. Horace describes the way his doctor compares his vital signs to his wife’s. And then says this:

That we think of even vital signs in this hierarchical way suggests to me the degree to which we are willing to judge, rank and hierarchize based on simplistic measurements and perceptions of bodies that are constructed in complicated and multi-functional and multi-contextual ways strikes me as, at the very least, symptomatic of a cultural conditioning to view the material body as a legible marker of subjectivity, and on a more sinister level, a somewhat more conspicuous and perhaps even vaguely conscious effort on the part of the medical community (and even more, of the medical tchnology and pharmaceutical industries) to transform physical flesh into a value marker, with ideological, moral, and capital value.

I never worry about going to the doctor, mostly because I get the same kind of praise that Horace and his wife do. My vital signs are good. My weight is good. But I do hate going to the dentist because I never floss enough. I get shamed on a regular basis. You know, why doesn’t the dentist just clean my teeth, and unless there’s an obvious problem, leave out the condemnation altogether. I imagine that people with non-teeth-related health issues feel the same way I do about going to the dentist. As a result, I don’t go to the dentist as often as I should and I’m sure the same happens for others when it comes to doctor’s visits. And what a shame. And it is a terrible thing to shame someone when they really haven’t done much wrong. Maybe they’re trying hard. Certainly, the doctor can’t get into the complexities of their health situation in a 15 minute appointment.

I think Horace’s post hit a nerve, too, because we’ve been discussing cosmetic surgeries of various kinds in our class and this whole issue of the body as something that our values are written on has come up again and again. It’s interesting to see the same issue in a slightly different context.

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Poor people have poor ways

This is a phrase I’m sure you’ve heard and one my father-in-law said to us a lot when we were in grad school. There’s an interesting conversation going on over at Half-Changed World about the cost of food and how low-income people are buying more Spam and other not-so-healthy options. I have written about health, food, and class twice before. Yes, it’s true many of us do not have the survival skills of our grandparents. I can make my own pasta and bread, but I don’t like to mostly because I lack equipment, time, and space to do so. Of course, I’ve been spoiled by watching food shows. My grandmother’s kitchen was 2/3 the size of mine and she made everything from scratch. I think mostly it’s a matter of establishing certain habits. We have a good farmer’s market, but I forget to go. Many of the CSA’s are $700/yr or thereabouts, which is a bargain really, but if you’re poor, you don’t usually have that kind of money and don’t know what to do with half that food anyway. And growing my own? Well, I have a postage stamp of a yard, which I’ve joked about growing potatoes and cabbages in and then guarding those with a gun, but really, I don’t know much about growing either. I’ve done it. I could do it, but could we really save a lot by doing that?

I spend on average $150/week on groceries. I buy a fair amount of produce, but I do use a lot of shortcuts–frozen veggies, pre-made dough, the occasional frozen entree or side dish–and I buy meat. But I could live without it if I had to. These days, I tend to see what’s on sale and then think about what kinds of things I could make from it. Ground beef was two for one last week. That made a spaghetti meal and tacos. And it wasn’t the lean meat either. And that’s the thing–and what I said 3 years ago too–the good stuff is expensive. You can complain all you want about poor people not knowing how to prepare healthy meals, but when you’re just looking at the bottom line, you’re likely not to pay as much attention to the nutrition labels.

Headaches gone for now

Not that I want to turn this into a health blog, but just FYI, the headaches have gone for now. I did spend the entire afternoon watching “Mystery Diagnosis” and there were several episodes dealing with headaches. The causes ran the gamut from tumors to hormonal imbalance. Yuck. I’m hoping to get a walk in today, get some fresh air, stay away from the computer again.

Caffeine-free update

It’s true. I’m now caffeine free. It’s pretty awesome actually. I sleep better. I don’t find myself dragging out of bed in the morning. This hasn’t completely rid me of all my UT problems, but they’re pretty minor at this point.

As others said, the hardest thing is finding something non-caffeinated to drink when eating out. Restaurants don’t tend to carry caffeine-free coke, for example. I don’t mind drinking water most of the time, but sometimes I want something with flavor. I’m drinking decaf coffee in the morning, which I know has traces of caffeine, but hey, I like the taste.

I highly recommend doing this. I feel kind of like a different person.

Giving up caffeine

In an attempt to alleviate my health issues, I’ve given up caffeine. I’ve been a caffeine addict since childhood, drinking coke and then in college, adding tea and in grad school, coffee. I used to drink two cups of coffee in the morning, a coke at lunch, often a cup of tea in the afternoon, and sometimes a coke with dinner. This isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things. I know people who drink coffee all day long. But I thought I’d give it a try. Given that I’m also pretty stressed out, it seemed a good idea to eliminate a stimulant.

Yesterday was the worst day and despite mass amounts of motrin, I felt pretty ill until mid-afternoon. You know you’re addicted when you go through that kind of withdrawal. I did actually feel better in a way. My head felt clearer and I’m definitely sleeping better. So far.

My other symptoms haven’t cleared up but it may take another couple of days for my system to clear out entirely. We’re now attributing my back pain to our crappy mattress. Man, I’m getting old.

Friday at last

This has been a long week. It’s been busy at work and dealing with the mystery illness has been no fun. It’s amazing how mentally distracting it is when you think a kidney is failing.

I’ve been thinking about a few things as I’ve tried to take my mind off the failing kidney. There are the school shootings and the Mark Foley/Dennis Hastert fiasco. Also teaching. I think I feel a poll coming on.

P.S. My kidney isn’t failing. So far, there seems to be nothing life-threatening. Meanwhile, I’m taking mass amounts of motrin.

Drifting toward hypochondria

Unfortunately, I have no idea what’s wrong with me. Oh, I’ve been to doctors. They haven’t found anything. I seem perfectly normal. But something is definitely wrong. One of my office mates thinks we should all just get annual CAT and PET scans since a lot of things that go wrong have no symptoms. I just want the Star Trek thing where they run a scanny thing over you to find out what’s wrong and then run another one over you to fix it. Or shoot you up with those cool hydrolic needles.

So I went to work for two hours today and then I came home and laid on the couch and watched Chicken Run, Robots, CNN, and MASH. Yeah, good day. I also drank gallons of water and ate homemade apple pie. And I spent way too much time at WebMD where they didn’t have my exact symptoms and the closest I could get were rare and horrible diseases. My students were sending me links to possible diseases. This is how I teach them to do research.

This morning, I was walking up the stairs to take a shower, already not feeling so great and felt pain shoot up my leg. And I thought, holy shit, I’ve got a blood clot. And then I remembered that I had rammed my leg into the bed post on my way to the bathroom last night. Yes, I jump to conclusions. I don’t really panic about it or anything, but I’m a worst case scenerio kind of person. It’s not that I’m pessimistic. I just want to be prepared. I don’t want to be caught later saying, I had no idea that kind of thing could happen.