Friday, September 20, 2019

Have You Gotten Your Flu Shot?

Sickness is like science fiction. Stephen King’s The Stand, uses a flu epidemic to create a horror story and Susan Sontag’s famous essay is “Illness As Metaphor.” You’re placed into an alternate universe. Even something minor like a head cold creates at least one degree of separation from the everyday world in which others go about their business in a way that you're not able. It gets worse if you really come down with something and end up looking enviously out your window at passersby who're perfectly capable of going about their business unimpeded by physical handicaps. Those people born with congenital conditions never know what it feels like to live a so-called normal life in which one has full use of one's faculties. The average person takes his or her ability to see, hear or smell for granted but there are those who inhabit an interior universe in which stimulae from the outside world are dramatically limited. If you've never known another life, then in essence you may not feel like you’re missing anything. It’s those who experience the kinds of physical deterioration that results in the inability to ambulate or even cognate who will find they have begun a different kind of a journey. Journalist Jean Dominique-Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly described the locked-in syndrome that derived from a massive stroke. The NYU historian Tony Judt wrote three books after he was diagnosed with ALS while contributing essays about his condition to The New York Review of Books.  Stephen Hawking who also suffered from ALS, wrote books like A Brief History of Time under the most challenging of conditions, in the end using cheek muscle to activate a sensor. He developed a rich inner world that had a correspondingly powerful grasp of the cosmos. Despite being limited he was, at least from the theoretical point of view, a human telescope, his mind allowing him access to perceptions about the nature of the multiverse not available to people who suffered from none of the disabilities he dealt with. In his many books the neurologist Oliver Sacks demonstrated how patients with severe neurological disorders often compensated for their losses—becoming in essence like Spock in Star Trek, brilliant though sometimes robotic-sounding personalities with extrasensory perception.

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