A healthy dose of disagreement

I have to confess that, while I find the Daily Prompt from WordPress can be a great seed for growing a new post, I often experience a disconnect between the prompt title and the question being asked. Sometimes I just ignore one and focus on the other. Sometimes I write about my own topic. And yeah, sometimes life explodes and I don’t write at all. Today’s Daily Prompt is creating so much cognitive chaos for me that I am compelled to address it here. The prompt, titled “Placebo effect,” asks: “If you could create a painless, inexpensive cure for a single ailment, what would you cure and why?  Photographers, artists, poets: show us HEALTH.”

pillsThere is so much about this prompt that doesn’t sit right with me, I hardly know where to start. I’m going to have to deconstruct it one piece at a time.

In the first place, as a title to the rest of the prompt, “placebo effect” doesn’t make sense. The question is about curing an ailment, but I wouldn’t necessarily equate “placebo” with “cure.” That’s not to say that a placebo can’t play a role in curing disease. The placebo effect is an observable phenomenon that has been extensively researched.  But there is no consensus about what causes it, except for some acknowledgement that it has something to do with the complex way the human mind and body interact. By that token it would seem be a stretch to say that a placebo could “cure” a particular disease. If the effect of a placebo is in some way linked to the workings of the mind, then I don’t see how it could ever cure a specific physiological disease in patients who were psychologically and cognitively diverse.

Secondly, I’m put off by the emphasis placed on the fantasy cure being “painless,” as though a cure that isn’t painless would be less desirable. How do you measure pain? Which pain is worse– a low grade pain that goes on, day in and day out, for years — or a few days of acute pain managed medically? Surgery is a cure that always causes some pain, but I jumped at the opportunity to cure my chronic hip pain with hip replacement surgery. Would it have been better if there had been no post-surgical pain at all? Given that I didn’t need pain killers of any kind two weeks post-operation, I have to say that the fact that there was any pain at all was pretty much inconsequential to the big picture. And I believe that what bit of pain I did experience served an important purpose. Pain is a warning– it is our bodies telling us to take it easy. If my post-surgical pain is my body’s way of telling me to slow down and rest while my system recovers from the trauma of surgery, I am not sure I want to wish that away.

And then there’s the complicated matter of “inexpensive.” As a consumer of the Canadian heath care system, I experience most of my health care as relatively “inexpensive.” But as a citizen who is aware that a massive percentage of my provincial government’s budget is dedicated to that health care system, I know that it is, in fact, very expensive. I’m not at all qualified to comment on the brouhaha going on south of the border with regards to paying for health care, but I know that people everywhere would dearly like to find more inexpensive approaches to medicine. But “inexpensive” can be a just as relative a term as “pain.” My surgery was probably more “expensive” than several years of daily acetaminophen, but I don’t know how the equation works out if you factor in the improvement to my quality of life and general productivity level.

And while we’re at it, let’s talk about “cure.” Or rather, do we only want to talk about “cure?” What about “prevent?” If we decide that “painless” and “inexpensive” are both desirable, I suggest that the odds of achieving both are much greater if our goal is not to cure the disease once it happens, but to stop it from happening in the first place. And what about the third option: “manage.” In the musical Rent the characters, many of whom are grappling with HIV-AIDS, sing with hope about “living with, not dying of, disease.”

There are many diseases that, while we have not cured them, we have learned to manage to the extent that people can live long and productive lives with conditions that were once a death sentence. My great-uncle died at age 12 of diabetes, a few months before Banting and Best discovered insulin. Today it is possible to manage diabetes into old age.

Which brings me to the utter and complete impossibility of choosing one ailment to which I would apply this fantasy cure. Because really how would you choose? Would you base your choice on the number of people afflicted? On the amount of suffering caused? On the cost to the medical system for the treatments that are currently available? Or would it be an emotional decision based on your own experience? I have arthritis. I lost my dad to cancer. I have loved ones with heart disease, depression, diabetes,… the list goes on.

In the end, my biggest beef with today’s prompt is with the implication that curing a disease means the same thing as “health.” Because one thing I have come to know with absolute certainty is that heath means a great deal more than the absence of disease.

thistleFor me, health is an integration of mind/body/sprit. It is wholeness, in the sense that all the parts of me are complete and complementary. It is, to use the familiar words of the serenity prayer, about changing (“curing”?) the things that can be changed, accepting the things that can’t, and having the wisdom and self-assuredness to know the difference.

Which means that I can be completely free of disease, and not be healthy. And likewise, I may be living with all manner of incurable disease and be healthy in the way that I choose to live with and through my physical realities. True health is personal. It is mysterious. It is full of contradictions.

Kind of like writing a thousand words about why I can’t write about the Daily Prompt.

Happy Hip Day

Today’s Daily Prompt posed the question: You get some incredibly, amazingly, wonderfully fantastic news. What’s the first thing you do?

My “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” news was not a single moment in time. Rather, it unfolded gradually over the past year.  Last October my doctor sent a referral letter to an orthopaedic surgeon. In March I met the surgeon. And three months ago today I traded in my left hip for a newer model.


My cane still sits in the front hall, but I haven’t used it for weeks. The scar from my incision has flattened out, and feels just like a mild bruise if I poke it. I can climb the three flights of stairs to my daughter’s apartment.

I went to hear Margaret Atwood (!) speak at a local mall a couple of days ago. There were no chairs left when I arrived, so I stood. For over an hour. Before the surgery, I might have lasted 15 minutes. On a good day.

Now that I’ve reached the three-month mark, I can officially dispense with the “hip precautions” and work on increasing my range of motion. But already it’s easier to pick things up off the floor. Easier to get in and out of the car. Easier to get things out of the bottom of the fridge.

Everything is a little easier when you are not in constant pain.

It really is incredible.

Me, now. (sort of)
Me, now. (sort of)

I go walking: East

(Part 3 in a series of reflections based on striking out from home in each of the four directions.)

Where I live, as seen looking across from the other side.
Where I live, as seen looking across from the other side.

As my friend T. smartly pointed out to me yesterday, to truly walk eastward I would have to wait for winter and the river to freeze over. So I have to cheat a little.

Ever so slightly to the south the bike paths loop up to the pedestrian walkway on the St. Vital Bridge. The walk across the bridge itself is protected from the freeway traffic by a waist-high concrete barrier, and if I pause halfway I am treated to a spectacular view up the river.

At the eastern end of the bridge I have options. I can keep heading eastward along the Bishop Grandin Greenway. I can head southward down River Road, which follows the curve in the river when it too meanders eastward for a while. Or I can turn northward and follow the riverbank through the cemetery and into St. Vital Park.

I have to confess that I haven’t done a lot of walking on the east side of the river yet. Because it takes a bit of hiking just to get over the bridge, these are longer walks, and I need to build up a bit more endurance first.

Because what I may not have mentioned yet is that I’m walking on a two-month-old artificial hip.

For the past few years my deteriorating hip joint has curtailed my walking, and I realize now how much that impacted my overall well-being. I walk to think and reflect. I walk to de-stress and decompress. I walk to bring order to chaos and make sense out of the nonsense in my life. So when I can’t walk I feel it in more ways than just the stiffness in my legs.

A lifetime of arthritis means I also need to walk for the sake of the stiffness in my legs.

Walking for the sake of walking is a healing force in my life, and I have missed it greatly these past few years. It feels good to be back. I can manage about 40-45 minutes at a stretch now—almost 3km. Each day I try to stretch my walk a little farther. Each time I walk a few steps farther I make a new discovery.

Raspberries with bodyguards

Like when I ventured over the bridge the first time and stumbled on the “Family Memorial” section of the cemetery. That means kids. Row upon row of tiny graves, many of them with only one date on them. It was a shock at first, and then I thought that if I had to visit one of those baby graves, I would be glad that I could walk away for a few paces and look out over the river.

Or like the raspberries I spotted in the park. They were cleverly avoiding harvest by hiding in the protective arms of a mass of thistles along the riverbank.


Or  the time I tried to visit the duck pond and found that, despite the pond having been drained for maintenance, a flock of ducks was stubbornly floating in the residual mud puddle.

And because I am blessed to live in a place with four distinct seasons, the potential discoveries are constantly changing. I have never been bored on a walk, even if it was a path I had walked a thousand times before.

Even less so when I have the chance to venture down a new trail.