Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The New Black

Apparently, 44 is the age at which we're most vulnerable to depression. That gives me 6 months to put up the defences. Something I might do is to (re-)read Darian's book - The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression - which appears on Thursday.

The publisher's (Hamish Hamilton) blurb:
What happens when we lose someone we love? A death, a separation or the break-up of a relationship are some of the hardest times we have to live through. We may fall into a nightmare of depression, lose the will to live and see no hope for the future. What matters at this crucial point is whether or not we are able to mourn.

In this important and groundbreaking book, acclaimed psychoanalyst and writer Darian Leader urges us to look beyond the catch-all concept of depression to explore the deeper, unconscious ways in which we respond to the experience of loss. In so doing, we can loosen the grip it may have upon our lives.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Pain and fortitude

Yesterday I went under general anaesthetic for the first time, to have a dental cyst removed. While waiting to be called to the theatre I read these comforting words by the great Oxford philosopher, R. G. Collingwood:
I would go so far with the hedonist as to say that anything good is pleasant. Any activity which I definitely choose to go in for, so far as my experience goes, yields me feelings among which there is pleasure, And I will add that although the pleasure sometimes comes as a surprise, a by-product which I had not expected, this happens more and more rarely as I become more and more experienced and acquire (as I hope I do acquire) more and more savoir vivre. Experience of life teaches me to expect the unexpected; in this case, to expect that I shall get pleasure out of things which, if I had been less experienced, I should not have thought likely to prove pleasant. A child may undergo dental surgery and find little in it except pain; when more advanced in years, he will find that bearing the pain gives him a curious and seemingly perverse but unmistakable pleasure; still later, he may learn to expect and reckon on the pleasure. This is not masochism. It is not a pathological enjoyment of merely being hurt. Being hurt is one thing; fortitude under pain is another. So the masochistic enjoyment of pain is one thing; the pleasure of finding that a certain degree of pain does not destroy one's fortitude is another. (pp. 426-7, 'Goodness, Rightness, Utility', The New Leviathan, Clarenden Press 1992)
With modern anaesthetics and pain-killers, in my case little fortitude was required.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Shadows in Wonderland

From the press release of a book coming out next month:

When television producer Colin Ludlow is admitted to hospital for an operation, he expects to be home in ten days. In the event, he ends up staying for five months, nearly dies on several occasions, contracts MRSA and is still recovering from his operation more than four years later.

His perceptive and frightening new book - said to be ‘memorable’ by The Bookseller - Shadows in Wonderland: A Hospital Odyssey is a moving account of how Ludlow pieces together the shattered fragments of his life and seeks to make sense of them again.

Shadows in Wonderland does not only recount Ludlow’s personal struggle for his health in many poignant passages:
“In the days following my surgery, I have a series of unexpected complications and my temperature soars. Eventually I am carted off to the hospital’s Intensive Therapy Unit where I spend several days unconscious on a ventilator. I have a second operation and then suffer massive internal haemorrhaging. Over one tumultuous weekend, I am given 45 units of blood in transfusions. Eventually, the doctors decide to try a rare clotting agent in a desperate attempt to staunch my bleeding, and Anna is told that if this fails to work by the second dose then there is no further hope for me. My children respond to the warning of my imminent death with storm-hardened calm. They are used to grim news by now.”
The book also takes a philosophical and questioning journey through chronic illness as Ludlow explores its wider significance. It is the record of a quest - which we all face - for health and wholeness in a fractured, disjointed world.

In the account of his blistering experience with chronic illness and the NHS Colin Ludlow manages to write masterfully and credibly about the institution, the culture and its history. With its amalgam of one man’s heart-rending experience within the NHS and its illuminating, witty digressions on the place of hospitals and health within Western society, Shadows in Wonderland enlarges our understanding of how it feels to become a long-term hospital patient.

Colin Ludlow also runs a blog.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Placebos and body shape

My friend John Baez pointed me to an interesting news story. This reports research on the effects of explaining to hotel maids that they do more exercise than the recommended daily amount. The odd thing is that many such workers' bodies don't reflect this physical activity, and at the same time they report themselves as doing little exercise. When one randomly selected group had the truth explained to them, there was a decrease in their weight and waist-to-hip ratio - and a 10 percent drop in blood pressure.

Naturally, one might think that this information must have altered other aspects of the maids' lives. Perhaps they were now behaving in a healthier way. An expert is wheeled in to suggest this must be so as the placebo effect only alters subjective aspects of health.

With all the evidence available (some touched on here, here, and here), could it be that the belief that placebos only effect one subjectively is a defense against the troubling thought that language can have an effect on our body?