Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fillips, pips, and pyxes

A few run-ins with the modern medical establishment today.
The first: Our new pediatrician.  Tolerates holism and does not attempt to don the veneer of high-modern certitude.  No tie, no white coat - annoying catch phrase t-shirts in their place.  Not a full-on priest of life-extension and pharmacological control.

He talks with us and looks at us.  This makes some of his other features (california sway-back, beardy, hypnocharlatan) more than tolerable.  And he seems competent.

The second: Binson's medical supply.  A warehouse and supermarket of goods for the ill, the fat, and the old.  If you need a cart, brace, cane, pump, chair, or other device, prophylaxis, appendage, etc., this is the place to be.  We were there to return our "billilights" that we used to cure Ben's jaundice.  Figures my son would have an early problem with jaundice... I must have metaphysically transmitted it to him in utero.

It was a jumping place!  Mostly the aged.  This was itself worth noticing.  America the old and increasingly infirm.  They are secreted away, yet their force is felt everywhere.  There is a fourth commandment meditation in this somewhere...

Two things - 1. They had a department with the neon epithet, "Lady Binson's Boutique".  One may purchase or rent wigs and other vanity items for those more unfortunate effects of illness or of the medicines that purport to treat illness here.  I only mention it because I thought it somehow undignified to display the wares in this manner.  Losing one's hair would be indignity enough, I think.

2. Next to the meat counter style reception and checkout area there were the requisite impulse buy ephemera, but two drew my attention:

A display of pill boxes, or cylinders, to be more precise.  The first said: "Inspirational Pill Containers”. All except one of the containers had standard semi-Christian bromides (“Faith Is Everything”). The exception actually had a line from 1 John, “God Is Love”. A shame that such an epoch shattering Scriptural pearl should be reduced to a vaguely familiar and vaguely affecting sentiment on a container of pharmacology. And to the container itself I now turn: the face was enameled with the aforementioned bromide and it was approximately three inches in diameter, a shiny disc about a half an inch wide.

What immediately struck me is that it resembled a pyx, that is, the container used to transport the reserved Host to those who are ill or otherwise unable to Commune with the assembly. Appropriate, or grotesque? I couldn't really decide. Maybe both. What Luther and the tradition before him thought of as the true "medicine of immortality" would have fit nicely into these little pill cylinders. The blazing irony is easy to read off. Pharmacological life extension in cheaply enameled sentiment laden containers to replace or displace the precious containers of eternal life. Now surely, I do not mean to suggest that one must choose between the relative benefits of modern medicine and the Body of Christ. The Church has (except in small errant factions) encouraged and lovingly nourished the practice of medicine - as the recent birth of my son in a Catholic hospital nicely illustrates. What I am suggesting is that the massive pharmacological experiment of our current medical community and the highly medicated mass that is purports to serve is a truly a culture producing affair. It has accoutrements and vessels. It has near ubiquity of place. And more than this, these artifacts tell a story that can be much different than the one that accompanied the pyxes of old. In place of story a life lived in preparation for death, where temporality and eternity are understood to be categories that cannot overlap (except in One!), and where a man lived the hope that he would enter into an order of imperishability after his utterly perishable body underwent the changes that such bodies inevitably do, we now have containers that rest upon promethean stories of rejected limit. We can slow aging. We can prolong. We can be prolonged. We can make successions of moments increase. And we really don't stretch our longings to the eternal. Or, at least we have alternatives that demand less of us - that do not attempt to shape or limit. We can take a pill. We can trust a technic. And we can get scripts from undemanding sources who "bless" without sacrifice. Who are installed in this current economy (in the broader sense of the word) to make all of this available to us.

There is much that is true and beautiful and noble and good about modern medicine. The alleviation of dumb, raw, undirected suffering in children is one of those. The eradication of poxes and pestilences and the human flourishing that this enables is also one. The overreaching cult of animal vitalism that it can at times become is not. Nor is the proliferation of those medical arts that cater to the vice of vanity and the deeply promethean urge to "remake" ourselves after the impulses of our will.

And, the other thing that drew my attention was, in its way, a thematic bookend to the former: a display of the same devices, only now instead of being fronted by "inspirational" pap, these were devoted to "Fashion". I don't pretend to know how the array of images qualified as "fashion" (one was a neon colored fish head), but I thought that it was indicative of something that the alternative to "inspiration" was "fashion". If fashion is the art of popular aesthetic will and play, then I suppose I can see a connection. Currently, it is easier to bend one's image to the untrammeled irruptions of desire then it is to bend one's body. Though how long this will remain the case is in no way certain.

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