Saturday, July 31, 2004

Little Miseries

It struck me the other day at work that if I am called upon to be a specialist in anything it is in the little miseries of life. Headache, backache, toothache, stomachache, dizziness, colds, coughs, rashes, sprains, strains, cuts, bruises not to mention nerves and blues and insomnias and failing appetites -- and countless other mysterious, often undefinable noxious bodily and mental sensations.

I don't do crushing chest pain, impending comas, or half-severed limbs in walk-in, thank you very much. I gladly dispatch the big miseries across the hall to the ER. But even the little miseries are a shorthand for and a reminder of the Biggest Misery Of All, mortality. That's the monster under every sickbed, whether one has taken to it with catarrh or trick knee. That's the subtext of every medical encounter. Incarnation. Suffering. Death.

Could it be cancer, doc ?

Do you think it's my heart ?

There are two islands, Great and Little Misery, off the Massachusetts coast. We should consider having our office part there this year.

"Misery" shares a common root with miserere and miser. That's pushing away and holding on to sorrow. Two kilesas. And the third ? Delusion ? I recall the months during which I became my broken neck. Plus, of course, I hated the discomfort and inconvenience and clung to the security and notoriety of being a patient. A triple whammy of kilesas.

I would like to change the name of the hospital-based group practice where I am the walk-in doctor. It currently has a peppy little name that implies speedy service, the medical equivalent of Kwik-E-Mart. Stanislav Lem gave us the Hospital of the Transfiguration. Mine could be the Clinic of the First Noble Truth. Or IncarnationCare.

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