Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Listen to your Body

With the tragic earthquakes in Sumatra — and the fact that until this moment some of my relatives in Padang are still unreachable — I’m somewhat overwhelmed by the prospect of setting down on paper my thoughts regarding this week’s events. So I will write about other memorable things that I did on that fateful Wednesday and muse over what lessons could possibly lie behind them.

One of the things I did was watch a surgical procedure — yes, inside the operating room of a hospital wearing the green outfit, surgical mask and cap, sitting at elbow’s length from the surgeon as he went about his business of cutting, probing, extracting and sewing, while the nurses were busy swabbing, passing instruments, holding the flesh open and so on. It was something out of “Grey’s Anatomy” or “ER,” except this was on a real person (who happened to be a close relative).

Now, you must be wondering why on earth I would want to watch a surgical procedure take place, especially quite a major one (my relative had to have a bunch of stuff removed from her) and involving a person I am close to?

There were plenty of reasons, and satisfying my journalist’s sense of curiosity was one of them. The other reasons were that I wanted to make sure the surgeon did a good job (and cheer him on) and that it was better to know exactly what went on personally than bite my nails in the waiting room. Plus, I’m always up for a new and exciting experience as long as it doesn’t involve me doing free falls from high places.

So there I was for over an hour watching the human body being dissected and treated like a slab of meat while the patient remained unaware. The surgeon asked for music to be played to reduce the stress. I asked him rather anxiously if he was stressed, because I wasn’t and the patient certainly didn’t look that way! I was quite grateful to hear him hum along to some Indonesian love songs and joke with his assistants. At least it masked the sound of machines whirring, not to mention flesh being poked and slashed.

He regularly showed me his findings, with a running commentary to go along with it. I asked for everything to be photographed, to keep a complete record of the surgery. (This would make for some very gory dinner table conversation and a good way to put people off meat!) He was very agreeable about having me hover behind him asking questions such as “How come her blood pressure has gone down a lot?” and “What’s in the drip?” I suspect this motivated him, much like a performer in front of an attentive audience. To be sure, he did a very good job.

At one point, the hospital was hit by a blackout. The operating room was in total darkness, except for light coming out of one machine. For a few seconds, there was silence. The doctor then said, somewhat reassuringly, the operation was almost done anyway. Yeah right, I thought. My cousin was on the operating table with her belly open and insides exposed. The electricity better come back on soon!

After a few seconds, the machines coughed and whirred back to life and he continued where he left off. After a few more things were removed from my cousin, the operation was over. I felt relieved and exhilarated at the same time.

The real reason to watch the operation was to reconfirm my understanding not just of the human body but also the way humans work. Often we separate what’s inside our mind from our body, the vehicle in which the mind resides, and fail to see the links that bind us into one whole being. When the body breaks down, we wonder what is happening, having no idea what is going on. When it comes to intelligence, our body is far more intelligent than our conscious being.

When the surgeon took out a huge lump of fibroids, he showed the massive pulsating, blood-filled, alien-looking object to me, saying, “This is stress.” I believed him. Our bodies don’t suffer or get sick without reason. Most of the time, we ourselves are the major contributors. There’s a saying, “You are what you eat.” You are also what you think, feel, keep inside of you, and what you do or don’t do.

That same evening, I visited a friend who was at the hospital. She said seven doctors had looked at her but they couldn’t say exactly what was wrong with her.

I asked her if she had any idea. She gave a rather sheepish grin and nodded. She hadn’t exercised for almost nine years. She’s been sleeping for an average of three hours a night and living on a diet of coffee, cigarettes and junk food. It was her body that finally forced her to stop whatever it was she was doing because her body was a lot smarter than she was.

(Desi Anwar: First published in The Jakarta Globe)

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