Sunday, July 26, 2015

Medical "Elbow-bumps"

Dear Friends,

The Muse continues to sulk, and has left me dependent entirely on my own uninspired resources. The consequences, in turn, are that you are left today with the bedraggled remnants from an odd week. The week itself obstinately refuses to yield much more than a sequence of events at this time; clear meaning from the week’s experiences has yet to emerge.

However, the week included a routine doctor’s appointment that included something worth thinking about that I’d like to share.

The practice to which my doctor belongs has been engaged in a year-long project to insure that patients coming into the waiting room do not infect others. There are large posters about covering coughs, and other similar safety measures. Doctors themselves have stopped touching patients’ hands in greeting or at departure as, presumably, a safety measure for the physicians themselves.

Picture with me this scene: I manage with cane and some assistance to seat myself in the assigned examining room where I am to wait. After a short interval, there is a light tap on the door and the doctor enters.  He says “Good morning,” then offers his elbow—yes, his elbow—for an “elbow bump” in place of a handshake.  He sensed the confusion and social discomfort in my response (I am quite unpracticed in doing “elbow bumps”).  Feeling awkward himself, he added some phrase about safety that was intended to bridge both my discomfort and his own, sat down and opened his computer. 

It was only this morning as I sat down to write that I discovered how disconcerting and disorienting that moment had been. 

The moment embodied for me a sharp disjuncture of symbols, an incongruity so stark and uncompromising that my sense of reality experienced a momentary tremor.  I was with a doctor—my doctor—wasn’t I?

This morning I can say in words what I sensed then.

For this young physician, touch has become dangerous; he views touching a patient as risk of contamination he must avoid.  I suspect that he has no conscious awareness that the act through which he sought to keep himself safe was injurious to me.

My limbic system recorded his act of self-protection as a judgement of me: I was “unclean,” an “untouchable,” an object to be examined through the safe mechanical extension of stethoscope and blood-pressure cuff, an object whose “vital signs” were data to be entered into a computer file.

I wonder: did that young doctor’s discomfort stem (hopefully) from his own inner questions regarding the protocol he was following? Or (frighteningly) did he regard the awkwardness of the moment as purely a by-product of the “un-cool” social limitations of an aging patient?

I am still thinking about this.

But for the moment, I am reading again throughout all four gospels the stories in which the authors recorded specific instances of Jesus bending and touching the sick, reaching out and touching the marginalized and disenfranchised, and—embodied grace—welcoming the touch of the “unclean” who reached out to touch Him.

Thinking with you in a profound, grace-filled absurdity of gratefulness: there is no record—anywhere—that Jesus practiced “elbow-bumping” in His contact with an unclean broken world.  He touched them—and they went away healed.

See you next week.



Sunday, July 19, 2015


July 19, 2015

Dear Friends,

This is a late report on the fate of today’s blog.

Unintentionally, today’s blog became wedged between company from Texas, company from California, and company from Kansas. The blog (not the company) became firmly stuck.

S0—no blog today, but a promised opportunity next week for the Blog Muse to express indignation regarding this undignified treatment. 

Note from author: I am quite guilty about this unfortunate neglect. However, I actually understand in a new way how a writer’s work becomes the boss.

See you next week—cross my computer keys.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

"Little" Sadness in a Resting Place

July 12, 2015

Dear Friends, 

Thinking about love in the context of diminishment continues to challenge me. William Yeats, the great Irish poet, thought about this human conundrum too. He wrote:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

Yeats catches both the ambiguity and ambivalence that wrap so intricately around love in the changing context of life:

- The safe uncomplicated rest within diminishment
- Love’s many faces viewed in retrospect
- Recognition of both the passion and betrayal inherent in love
- True ambivalence: the reality of loss [“Love fled”] and the relief of diminishment [“murmur a little sadly”]. (Italics added.)

I too am tired and full of sleep this morning. Admittedly, a little sadly, I count love’s losses. But—astonishing discovery—I cannot sum these losses. I am too distracted by the crowd of stars that now appear.

Thinking with you: describing what happens in diminishment is difficult. However, difficult or not, describing what happens is far easier than assessing how meaning emerges through loss.

See you next week.