Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Health, Illness, and the Myth of the Superwoman
Superwoman disappeared last Thursday, never to be seen since. Pouf, up in the air she went, with that first big bubble appearing on the right leg.
The bubble became bubbles, and they spread up the legs and arms, itching like hell, and reminding scenes from low budget horror movies. I almost expected alien life forms to pop out of the bubbles. Instead, the bubbles burst, revealing a yellowish liquid that went on and made more bubbles.
What? Where? What happened? I panicked. I started backtracking to see what I have done that might have caused it. Let me see. I got acupuncture. Then Chinese herbs. Then I saw the osteopath yesterday, and he worked on the right leg. He cleared something that I was holding, apparently, and compensating for. Bubbles?
Two weekends ago I worked in the garden, cutting dead cedar branches and pulling weeds. A few scratches here and there; and now there were those two scratches on the right calf: they wouldn’t heal as fast as the cedar branch scratches usually do. Now, this past Thursday, those scratches are turning into the Alien IV movie. And holly-Molly, do they ever itch! By the end of the day, I am covered in a rash, scratching furiously and panting like a running wolf. I reach out helpful people SOS by email and phone. I stop taking the Chinese herbs. ‘You’re detoxing’ tells my acupuncture friend.’ Congratulations!’
But with the spreading of the rash on my skin, dark hypochondriac scenarios spread out too. I start surfing the Internet, looking at worst-case scenario images: syphilis. I scan my memory for times in my life when I practiced unprotected sex, wondering what the incubation time of the bug is. I email my energy healer, describing him the itch and skin; he replies, dropping yet another bomb: “It sounds like scabies”. I write my naturopath; no reply from her.
Scabies. I cringe. Brian writes back, matter-of-factish: ‘It’s a common skin parasite; go see a doctor for a test’
For the past eighteen years I have only seen allopathic doctors socially. No drugs or surgery, and I am even outliving my mother, bless her soul, who passed away of leukemia when she was 45. I am almost 50, and it’s all from vitamins, network chiropractic, Reiki, zumba and a regular meditation practice. Which is exactly what makes me the Superwoman!
As a student of the Integral Theory and Ken Wilber’s work, I quickly remember how illness and health have four different lenses to look at (four quadrants), individual and collective, interior and exterior. The individual interior lens shows: ‘Ouch, it’s itchy!’; the individual exterior lens displays 37.4 Celsius on the thermometer. As I learn from my tightening stomach, there is also a cultural meaning to illness. Syphillis and scabies have a very particular connotation to them. The former is attached to images of promiscuity and low moral behaviour in general. The latter is associated with poverty and poor hygiene habits. They are both shameful. I sit in my computer chair, horrified, galleries of gore photos and youtube video clips marching in front of my wide-opened eyes. Now it’s not only about how I feel (aaargh, this impossible, irritating, infuriating itch!); now it’s also about ‘What will people say?’
I run to the doctor, preparing for the worst (is there an even worse?). ‘Contact dermatitis and Urticaria’ - the prompt diagnosis arrives. ‘You are developing an allergic reaction to something you came in contact with’.
‘But what if it’s syphilis?’ I sob into the Kleenex. ‘Are you sexually active’ asks the doctor, defiantly. ‘Not right now’ – I answer. Talking about when and how with the Woman in a White Coat makes me feel embarrassed, but more than anything, it makes me feel preventatively guilty for maybe having slipped less than fully protected sex activities somewhere in my passionate past. ‘Can you get syphilis from fingers and tongues?’ I inquire sheepishly. The doctor replies with half a smile; ‘There aren’t many chances’.
Then it hits me: Poison Ivy!
It must be poison ivy. But where? Back on the Internet, the images of Poison Ivy rashes are as if photographs of my own skin. I remember my gardening two weekends ago. I run outside, to the front yard, and take iPhone photos of a whole bunch of plants that look like the youtube pictures of Poison Ivy: three leaves! What would you feel if you discovered that you had Poison Ivy near your home?
I was HAPPY! Why? Because it’s neither syphilis nor scabies. Such is the power of cultural, shared meaning of illness: I am home, feverish, itchy like hell, with an unsightly skin, and relieved. I feel like Mr. Bean who goes out to brag to everyone with something menial he accomplished (like bringing LOTS of pens at his exam). I go out there and tell everyone I know I have a Poison Ivy rash! Yey for me!
By the time I figured this one out, I already tried home-made scabies remedies that did little besides further irritating my skin. I have the drugs at home: antibiotics, antihistamine, and Prednisone (steroids). Now Superwoman doesn’t do drugs. Just like other superheroes like Dr. Mercola and Mike Adams, Superwoman is all healthy and radiant all year-round with zero pharmaceuticals. No drugs since the early nineties!
The humorous doctor barks and growls at me for not taking her prescription. There is infection on the skin and it spread, she informs me. The information is delivered in lecture format, parent-to-child style while I study my shoes teary-eyed.
I check with the healer: ‘Go with what the doctor says’ he says; ‘we’ll clear toxins after’. I run to the naturopath, who looks at my legs, nods, and says, ‘Yeah, antibiotics’.
So I break my ‘No-drugs’ oath and take antibiotics. The fever goes down. The naturopath puts me on mega-doses of vitamin C and Quercitin, powerful antioxidants which together, in these high doses, also act as antihistamines.
Itchiness slowly turns into burning, prickling sensations. I can’t stand clothes on, and even when I wear the softest cotton I own, it feels as if I am wearing the old Romanian itchy wool I hated as a child. Or wearing porcupines – lots of them. My skin burns and I feel chilly. I shiver. When in the bathtub (I must soak twice a day, says the doctor, or else) or under shower, it’s itchy. Before the antioxidants enter my diet, I sit in water and howl, scratching. Or trying not to scratch. A variety of emotions arise, ranging from anger, fury, irritation, rage and frustration. Snapshots of life circumstances fly in front of my mind’s eye. The rash has a biological cause. But it also has a psycho-spiritual one, which I look into. I quickly proceed to clear old emotional charges surfacing now, with Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) It helps, and there is some relief…for a while. Holy Mackerel, how much material have I repressed, and for how long? I am pissed off at myself (what better occasion to do more EFT tapping?) for repressing all that. No more of it!
I dutifully proceed at barking and cursing to express the bottled emotions, and I swear, you could kill a small animal with the molecules of emotion that are coming out. How on earth can I be expected to add steroids to all these foul fumes? How am I going to show myself in the world? Wear a sign ‘Bitch on drugs’?
I also scan my brains for spiritual lessons learned. That gardening weekend was a hot weather one; the perfect time for a trip to my favourite spot in the woods, the Meech Lake. Instead of swimming in cool waters, I cut poisonous plants. And what are you learning from this, Miss Tana Master Within? How about having more fun on weekends? Less ‘shoulds’ and more joy? Delegate gardening to professionals?
I call the City Hall to let them know of the Poison Ivy. Someone will come take a look tomorrow.
I speak with Karen Cowen. She is such a sweetheart. She is a registered holistic nutritionist, and after our chat, she emails me this long list of foods to add reduce inflammation and detox. Artichokes sounds good. I love artichokes. Orange-coloured foods. Lots of greens. I have those. Drink water, tea, nettle tea.
My right forearm still looks like cheap sci-fi, and now is swollen. I eat soup with my non-dominant hand. At least this whole deal serves developing my creativity. My right hand is puffy. I can’t really make a fist; with so much anger coming up, it’s safer that way. My sense of humour is back though, courtesy of the drugs; combined with anger, my humour it makes for a pure hybrid of sarcasm.
I’m not out of the woods yet, and I look at the Prednisone on the table with mixed feelings. I left work and play aside, focusing on healing. I miss the social part. I write this blog so I can connect with people. I sheepishly confess to the world that Superwoman is Human Woman.
I sip water with my peniciline, and, as a true student of the Integral Theory and applicant of Integral Health, I now make peace with and embrace a long disowned part of my world that had gone into the Shadow: Western Medicine.