Kristina Johnson May 8, 2006 HR 190 Dr. Scott The Ethics of Listening When I signed up for Crossroads, I knew little about the course. I really didn‟t know what to expect. A friend of mine simply told me it would be easy and that I would enjoy it. In retrospect, he was right but I learned that Crossroads is so much more than that. This course has given me a new perspective on how illness affects people. It doesn‟t just destroy your body, it injures your mind. The scars aren‟t superficial; they leave marks deep within your self. They change your personality and they change the way you see the world around you. Sometimes the changes are for the better, sometimes they are caustic. In Mirrors, we see life from the perspective of a victim. She never seemed to have a chance to be normal because her illness began so early in life. As a result, she ended up avoiding seeing her true self until late in her life. Her illness degraded her in such a way that she became a pessimistic, almost hateful wallflower. We see just how much an illness can change a person and take over their life. She sneered at other people‟s happiness, wondering why relationships with other people were so important to them, but at the same time, she was masking her own pain of never having that closeness with another person. She was trapped inside of cage of her mind, and it took her decades to find the way out. In The Plague, we find an entire city in her situation, lost to the world with only those within the walls to keep company. In both situations, we see how greatly society‟s value on image can drive a situation. In The Plague, the city officials allow the situation to reach a dangerous magnitude before actually taking action. They debated for so long because they didn‟t want the city‟s image to be ruined, but by doing this they allowed the citizens to suffer. They could have simply began „cleaning‟ the city and had vaccines flown in from the beginning, but they were too concerned with how a plague might affect business and tourism. Much like Dr. P, they refused to admit there was a problem until it was too late to do anything about. While they did end up winning their fight against the plague, hundreds of lives were lost. It didn‟t have to be like that. Dr. P denied there was a problem for so long, that by the time he finally decided to see a physician, there was nothing that could be done to prevent his disease from progressing. Perhaps nothing could have been done in Dr. P‟s case, but perhaps the quality of his life could have been extended a few years. Instead, he was doomed to eventually become lost within himself. He would no longer be able to recognize anyone, much less communicate his needs to a caretaker. And then there are times when it seems illness comes out of nowhere, as with Walter‟s case. He did all that he could, and unlike the narrator of Mirrors, he lived his life in a way that kept him happy. He doesn‟t know if he‟ll be gone in a few days, or in ten years, so he lives every day like it‟s his last. That doesn‟t mean he goes rock climbing, or goes to the symphony every night. He takes time to appreciate all that is around him; he‟s living his life the way we all should. I have an immense respect for him. He understands that life can be taken away in an instant, and he understands what is truly important in life. He is not so much concerned with the image of health as he is being spiritually healthy. Our narrator in Mirrors did not quite understand that until she was middle-aged. Though she did not readily admit it, she seemed more concerned with the way people saw her. She knew how people saw her physically, and it corrupted her inside. She became angry at the world for giving health to others, but not to her. She expressed her hurt by distancing herself from her peers and from activities that they would take part in. Walter, instead, tries to be optimistic. He knows he can‟t do much more than what he is doing, and that he only has so much time- however much it may be. So he‟s doing everything he felt was really important to him. He‟s continuing his work, planning trips to Ireland, just keeping in touch with the people he loves. Because of this, he‟s happy. His quality of life, despite his illness, is enviable. The narrator of Mirrors and Walter seem to exemplify the two ways people react to Sisyphean situations. Life gives you what it does. You can‟t change it, you just have to adapt. Those who refuse to acknowledge that some things just can‟t be changed live like the girl in Mirrors. She can‟t be happy until she accepts her situation and grows from it. Walter has done that, and his life is so much better for it. No one can say why certain people fall ill as opposed to others, but if you deal with the fact that gravity is going to make the boulder roll back down the hill your life will be better for it. I haven‟t met a person yet whose life was nothing but happiness and good fortune. I have known a lot of depressed people, a lot of very mentally and physically sick people, and out of those, the ones who were happiest were the people who dealt with what happened in a positive way. I think this course has taken a lot of the thoughts I have spinning around in my head and helped to organize them. It has provided me with a tool to understand all the things I‟ve seen and all the theories I‟ve created on why people act the way they do. It has actually helped me deal with a lot of situations in my own life that before were just big messes. You can‟t just lie down and cry; you have to get up and find a way to deal with your situation. You may not be able to change your situation the way you‟d want to; it may not go away, but you can always find a way to make it better. When it comes to illness and culture, I found the chaos narratives to be the most interesting, because I feel as if I‟ve been living one for the last three years. Perhaps that‟s why I want to be a surgeon so badly. I may not be able to „fix‟ my own life, but I‟d like to help other people. I realize people aren‟t machines, they can‟t simply have a few adjustments and be in perfect working condition but there is just something about surgery and that certain intimacy with the body you‟re working on that draws me in. Frank‟s statement “medical care both sets and reflects standards for caring relationships between individuals and society” particularly sticks with me. I hadn‟t really thought about relationships in that way before, at least not with any direction. After working on so many animals with my grandpa, who is a veterinarian, I gained a greater respect for life, and my interest in the surgical field increased exponentially. My parents had instilled a respect for the land and living creatures in me from the beginning. They are farmers, firmly grounded in the belief that we were put here to take care of the earth. I‟ve been told it sounds a little pagan by some people, but it seems that other people that grew up farming have the same view. For me, Crossroads humanized surgery. It made me realize that though I had that inherent respect for the animals I had worked on, I didn‟t yet have it for people. I still saw their bodies as machines. Another interesting aspect of Crossroads for me was the discussions on „quickfix‟ medicine, and the mainstream presupposition that medicine magically cures you instantly and forever. It seems odd to think that in a society as advanced technologically as our own, people are still quite uneducated as to their own health. This was also apparent in the statistics on minorities receiving regular medical care, especially the problem of African American females and sexual health- particularly when it comes to getting regular mammograms. When Ms. Holmes presented the breast cancer narratives to us, it really exemplified the general level of ignorance on cancer in that community. It‟s disturbing to think that there are so many women out there without enough knowledge of breast cancer. It kills thousands of women each year, thousands of others have fought and survived, and yet there are still all these women who might not even know how to spot it early on. That really bothers me. For all the globalization of our post-modern society, there are still so many old school diseases lurking around, even here in America. Tuberculosis recently made a comeback throughout various states because of two sick passengers on major airlines that happened to be jetting to opposite sides of the country. It‟s scary to think how easily our environment can be tampered with and what little it takes to transmit diseases we thought were done for decades ago. With globalization comes the unavoidable language and culture barriers Americans seem to dread. It is hard to train someone how to react to such a barrier. It takes the correct background and resources and lots of patience, especially with cultural issues. The training video we watched with the Laosian family hit closer to home. I don‟t think I could have perhaps have been as nice the pediatrician in that video. I didn‟t agree with the willingness of the grandmother to let the child suffer simply because she would „look‟ better in the afterlife. I would rather my child have one, tiny scar in the afterlife and live a long, fruitful life in the present. Between that movie and The Spirit Catches You, I realized just how much my Midwestern upbringing has affected my views on other cultures and my overall ability to accept other people‟s views when they conflict with my own. Compared to most of my peers from back home, I am highly diversified and accepting of different cultures; but that doesn‟t necessarily mean that it is enough. I realized I‟m also going to have to learn to respect cultures I totally disagree with, because that is the only way that I can truly help others. There has to be an understanding between the doctor and the patient before any healing can actually commence.
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