Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kidney Stone & Mishima's Will

That's right, I have now officially passed into the era of old age, hereafter doomed to patching up my body as it slowly... well a bit dramatic, but that's how I felt. That's the first part of this post. The second is the means to escape old age.

Continuing what I did before, here is some topical background music to accompany this post...

Woke up and walked to work as normal, except I had a nasty pain in my right groin, not dissimilar to a twisted testicle. It got steadily worse on the way to work, and by the time I had arrived, not thirty minutes later, I was feeling most uncomfortable and quite nauseous. A teacher kindly proffered a chair to recouperate on, but there was no recouperating to be had. After perhaps, 45 seconds on the chair, the pain got much worse, and I decided quickly I wanted to go to hospital. Retelling this to my students later, those who know me well were quite surprised because I always bemoan doctors and hospital and medicine (that's to come, mind you), but there comes a point with pain when even principles must be abandoned.

I was hastily ushered into a taxi cab across the street, and I gasped a request to take me to the nearest hospital. Having resigned myself over to the conveyance of the taxi and the inevitable medical care of Shizuoka's finest doctors, I relaxed all inhibitions I had been placing on myself and let the pain take over.

At university I attended a couple of lectures on "pain", and simply from an academic point of view, the topic is really quite interesting. Kind of like left and right, or a three-body physics problem, pain is something relative that is impossible to define in isolation or measure quantitatively. At first, the pain was intense in my groin and lower abdomen, much like the report of a terrible stomach ache or malicious kick to the testicles. But as the intensity increased, it seemed to be carried up to my brain, and from there force itself upon every part of my body in waves of paralysis and rigidity that were at once both painful and beyond pain so as to be not painful but simply distressing. My consciousness seemed to recalibrate what pain actually meant, but not by turning it off, because it couldn't, but by dissolving it in a mental spasm, overwhelming the sensation of pain with nonsense that induced a semi-paralysis. Instead of suffering pain, I was aware of suffering pain.

Symptomatically, this manifest as rigor, an inability to move or coordinate movements or to speak, and mild hyperventilation.

It was the most intense pain I have ever felt and, unless I do retain youthful world angst and go the way of Mishima, likely the worst pain I shall ever experience. Even if I should happen across some other illness or injury of comparative nociceptive activity, at least I know my brain has some kind of automatic pain-shutdown that comes into effect. Which is certainly of some comfort.

Anyway, back to the back seat of the taxi, I'm writhing and panting like I'm going to die at any moment, and the poor taxi driver is hoping he won't have a dead foreigner to explain to the police. We get to the hospital and I awkwardly throw my wallet at the driver, not caring whether he takes all my cash and my credit cards. He helps me into reception.

Reception lady in the emergency entrance asks, "Do you have insurance?"
".... yes.... but..."
"Do you have an insurance card?"
[whole body shaking, barely standing, hyperventilating] ".... check.... my... wallet..."
[she checks it, but it isn't in there] "You don't have a card, please fill out this form..."
"I've got the fucking money just treat me you lunatic!"

No, I didn't say that. Nurses came and plonked me into a chair and wheeled me away from the [charming] lady, got me on a bed and from then on it was like ER. Doctor, young man, asks me some questions and as I reply in Japanese I am aware of being pleased with myself for maintaining some mental decorum whilst under such pain; the other time I saw a man moaning on a hospital bed like this he was dying from an abdominal aortic aneurysm and he was incoherent. The doctor quite quickly suspects a kidney stone, confirms enlarged right kidney with ultrasound (I don't think he could see the stone with that), they give me a suppository for the pain and soon I am quite mellow, lying in my own bay, thinking what an exciting experience this has all been.

They give me two abdominal x-rays and an x-ray CAT scan to confirm the diagnosis. Older doctor shows me the stone on the CAT scan. He tells me it will hurt again when it comes out. I want to ask him some questions. What kind of stone is it? He says of course it is a calcium stone (I think he is bullshitting, it probably was, but even the next doctor I go to wants to test the stone to check). What caused the stone? He has no idea. What can I do? Nothing, just wait. Nice work doc.

I got some more morphine suppositories, and then go to work. Not being happy with this hospital, I got to another for follow up. Next one is much better, but they couldn't keep to the damn schedule and I have work to go to, so I don't bother going back there either. (Seriously, don't get me started on doctors, I've heard dozens of stories from students on doctors, to add to my own, who make mistakes, once fatally, over prescribe medicine, and are even drunk on duty). At no point did any healthcare professional (cough) give me any advice other than what was written on a leaflet (drink lots of water). Total bill for symptomatic treatment (which is all doctors can do 90% of the time): $400

The internet was, fortunately, much better. Twenty seconds of google-fu and 1 yen of internet and electricity costs turns up the advice that 60oz of olive oil mixed with 60oz of lemon juice melts the blighted stone like tofu cooked with radiation; I made and drank the disgusting concoction (the lemon juice is what makes it unpalatable) three or four times. I know not whether this actually cured me, but I never passed a stone to my knowledge and only suffered mild renal colic once more.

Runaway Horses

The music is by Philip Glass, and is part of the soundtrack to the movie Mishima, written and directed by the Schrader brothers. You can watch the whole thing on Youtube, and you should do [edit - now you cannot thanks to copyright on a movie that doesn't even seem to be in publication any more, try a rental shop]. The second book in Mishima's tetralogy is called Runaway Horses, and it is the finest novel concerning the youth of man ever. It is slow and considered like the middle aged lawyer, Honda, who seeks a connection to his youth, punctured by sections of extreme beauty and purity of idealism. The end of the novel also gives the finest line of prose ever written, which was also used as the final line for the movie.

Isao and his creator Mishima likewise, suffered from a peculiar form of psychache whereby they give a shit about what they themselves think and they ACT on their beliefs. As a form of mental pain, their psychache, the kind that drives action, was of a quality and intensity analogous to the small lump of ill-formed calcium tearing up my ureter. It spurred me onto quick action out of fear and panic, an action that is always in danger of being yielded and diluted to the pressure of daily conformity and numb peace, unless it has an unstoppable progenitor.

The genius of all art lies in self awareness, and Mishima so consistently undermined his own beliefs and those of his characters that he draws point to self awareness in the comedy of taking one's beliefs too seriously, and yet, in spite of that, believes and acts on them anyway. His art was only crystallized, proven by experiment, when he killed himself. The Will to Act.

The self immolation of the rabbit at the beginning of Tezuka Osamu's Buddha sums this up well. The impetus to act, the stone in one's mind causing pain, can manifest a desire to do good, to create or to help, but only in real world manifestation can this impetus be transformed into something worldly, and thus historical, and thus timeless. In this perverse way of viewing action, the fantasy of the mind is in fact a concrete reality from which the certitudes of one's world are born and maintained; when these are acted upon they become something surreal, seeds of a kaleidoscope, born into a physical world where their repercussions are, unnaturally, refracted and distorted eternally in the interpretations of other minds.

I am constantly amazed at how institution and power structures, and the individuals who work for them, act without moral compunction, and without reproach, often killing thousands through such tools like "policy" and "economic theory", yet are unknown, unpunished, and undiagnosed as sociopaths and not sectioned. Yet, someone who believes in something beyond themselves, someone without ego, with morality who acts in their own name and is willing to be punished under that name, someone who dares take up the sword against an individual of an institution, is labelled a terrorist, has human rights stripped from them, and is punished as the worst kind of criminal. The powers that be in modern society are trying to erase the Will to Act, and the impotence of protest and the youth of modern developed society is sickening proof of their success. This is why we find escapism in the tales of those who do act; Mishima, Batman, Mohammed or Buddha. What we should learn is not how to escape, but how to transform thought into action.

Mishima began his regimen of physical and mental perfection when he was 30, which he did not stop until his death 15 years later; I like to think that it took him this long to form a stone in his belly strong enough to found his beliefs on, and jagged enough to drive him towards action. I have a stone, but it is not yet strong enough to stand up to reason; before I act on it I must accept the comedy and pain of belief in order to calcify the stone, lest it dissolves without a trace.