Patient C-3E/008-01

Call me Patient C-3E/008-01, late of the Village of the Damned. I was released from hospital yesterday afternoon, and believe me, dear readers, I did a little Snoopy Dance of Joy inside when they finally discharged me. Thanks also for all your kind thoughts while I was ill. I have to say, though, that a great deal of the pain and suffering I endured over the last week was iatrogenic (or what might be called “collateral damage”). Still, I would also like to thank the medical staff that pulled me back from the edge of the precipice that was crumbling beneath my feet.

Everyone should become deathly ill a few times in their life. I fancy I understand Nietzsche pretty well because of that, for Nietzsche was deathly ill throughout much of his life. It very much colours his entire philosophy and he knew that unless one had suffered from life the way he had suffered from it, no one could really understand his philosophy. Extreme pain often has the salutary effect of sobering the mind and ridding us of superficial pettinesses (or what is called “personal baggage”). It cuts to the quick, but you also gain some measure of clarity into what matters and what does not matter. It’s the first Noble Truth of the Buddha — life is dukkha. It matters, though, in what way you understand how and why life is dukkha. This is also the starting point for Nietzsche’s entire philosophy: “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. There is value to be discovered even in dukkha, and Nietzsche wanted to draw that value out.

(Unfortunately, they aren’t done with me yet either. I have to return for additional surgery in a couple of weeks).

Extreme illness can also be a teaching, and all of life and even what we call “evolution” is a process of learning those teachings. For much of my stay in the hospital I was in a delirium of pain. One part of me was immersed in that delirium of pain even as another part, somewhat detached from that, found the whole matter interesting and absorbing. That’s the part that McGilchrist calls “the Master mode of attention” associated with the right-hemisphere of the divided brain. If you have read Nietzsche’s “The Despisers of the Body” chapter from his Zarathustra, this is not to be wondered at. The “Master” is what Nietzsche calls “the Self” and it is not the Ego-nature. This is a point on which many people who pretend to understand Nietzsche often go astray. It is this latent or implicit “Self” that is the core of Nietzsche’s “overman”, or Emerson’s “Oversoul” or Blake’s “Albion reborn”. So, “The Despisers of the Body” is a key chapter in understanding Nietzsche’s entire philosophy of dukkha and much of William Blake, too…

“Man was made for joy and woe
Then when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine
A clothing for the soul to bind.”

If you can suffer dukkha “creatively”, without lapsing into self-pity and resentment of life, this is the beginning of wisdom and of compassion for all living. Gurdjieff even advocated an exercise for awakening compassion in this respect, even in a pub — knowing that the person you are sharing a beer with during “happy hour” is a mortal being doomed to suffer and die as you yourself are doomed to suffer and die. In Buddhism and in Castaneda’s writings, this knowledge is extended to all living beings. What makes Man equal to the slug or the plant or the insect is the knowledge that we are all mortal beings doomed to suffer and die. This is the Buddhist Law of Impermanence and what Jean Gebser calls “the Law of the Earth” and many people resent it deeply and turn away from life. It’s one reason why Heraclitus was largely rejected in Western intellectual history. But now his time has come.

I was admitted into emergency last Friday, 27. September with a kidney obstruction. I was in emergency for seven hours as various unsuccessful and quite painful attempts were made to insert a catheter in my bladder until a specialist was called in who basically performed on the spot surgery. I am what they call “a difficult insertion”, and the procedure caused some “trauma” to the urethra and the bladder. In other words, I bled quite a lot and this caused blood clots to form resulting in an extremity of pain as they jammed up the works. My extended stay in the renal unit had less to do with my chronic kidney dysfunction than it did with the attempt to heal the trauma of the procedure for alleviating the kidney obstruction. Once that had been cleared up there followed days of disappointment when my discharge was postponed “till tomorrow” until it seemed like in the Village of the Damned (what I called our ward), tomorrow never came. It began to feel a little too Kafkaesque, or like Macbeth’s soliloquy

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

That’s what it began to feel like. The reason my discharge kept getting postponed till “tomorrow” was high blood pressure and various attempts made to control it. It was through the roof, actually. But it was a vicious circle. My body organism, bed-ridden and made immobile because hooked up to, and pinned down by, machinery was rebelling against this condition of immobility (they even had to give injections of some painful substance to counteract the effects of immobility on the body organism). I protested that my blood pressure would normalise once I was discharged and in my own home (and sure enough, it has returned to normal since my discharge). The high blood pressure, too, was iatrogenic. So, it began to feel very merry-go-round-like and a bit too kafkaesque.

So, I did learn a few things about the moods and meanings of Nietzsche, Shakespeare, and Kafka from the experience.

And also David Bohm. One of the most interesting effects brought on by the trauma and the delirium of pain was precisely this issue, previously discussed, of “fragmentation”. (This delirium of pain was very often accompanied by a shaking and spasms of the entire body organism). The fragmentation of the field was very, very concrete during these periods. Everything stood out in its apartness. Nothing had coherence. It certainly brought to mind Yeats’ line from “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold”. Everything — every aspect of the field — seemed to be in rebellion against every other thing or aspect. It was like the field view fractured and splintered, and the proper word for that is “dis-concerted”. There was no concert of the percepts. That simply reflected the loss of equilibrium (or homeostasis) in the body organism itself. But even immersed in this delirium there was a part of me saying “hey! This is just like the pandaemonium and delirium of the New Normal!”.

Indeed, it is. What Bohm means by “fragmentation” is something very, very concrete in meaning for me now. And maybe that alone was the whole meaning and teaching of this particular episode in my life — pandaemonium, delirium, and the chaos of the affects.

In any case, I am not the same “Self” as I was for the experience. I’m like the serpent that has shed its skin. There is here for me a teaching and a lesson in all this about the pettiness of “identitarianism”. If we can remain open to being transformed and changed, even through pain and suffering, and not give in to self-pity or resentment, we will learn, and the learning is the transformation. None of us ever is the same “Self” from day to day anyway. This is perhaps why the New Testament describes the serpent as “the wisest of creatures”, and perhaps the real meaning of the ancient ouroboros — the World Serpent constantly shedding its skin and being born again a different creature, but within the cycle — constantly dying to itself; constantly being renewed through its dying to itself.

The Drakon Ouroboros from Jakob Boehme
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17 responses to “Patient C-3E/008-01”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I do believe that the World Revolution anticipated by Rosenstock-Huessy decades ago has begun. This protest in Bolivia is quite remarkable, but is part of a broader global movement (like Extinction Rebellion in the UK).

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bolivia-politics/hundreds-of-thousands-voice-outrage-over-bolivian-leaders-response-to-forest-fires-idUSKCN1WK0H3

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Trump is a real disgrace to the human race. He’s venal, corrupt, the epitome of the narcissist, ignorant, and self-dealing. I don’t quite understand why he arouses such loyalty or even adulation in certain segments of the American populace, but I suppose it has to do with race politics and perhaps the feeling that it ain’t Normal Rockwell’s America any more (if it ever was such) or even “the American Dream” (whatever that was — opportunity to own a home?)

    But even so, Trump is hardly the representative of “truth, justice, and the American Way” whatever that was really. All I see in Trump is America’s own self-negation and self-defacement and not a return to something Norman Rockwell-ish. The “New Norman” anyone?

    Empire’s revenge on itself, maybe. Blowback. Fear of the future, probably. Failure to understand the nature of the changes going on. All seem involved in this aberration. Not sure that impeachment will bring about a rectification of this aberration either.

    This is the difficulty in interpreting what Gebser means by saying that everything hinges today on “knowing when to let happen and knowing when to make happen”. That was, in many respects, what Socrates was up to in his time too, when faced with the demise of classical Greek civilisation.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    I’m still unsure if notifications of new posts on The Chrysalis are being sent out by WordPress, because I don’t receive them any more. I don’t know if this is a tactic to force me to upgrade to a paid account or just a glitch in the system. If you didn’t receive notification (or did) I would certainly like to know. Thanks.

  4. erikleo says :

    Amen! I can relate to what you say Scott; glad you are okish! I had a catheter in for 3mths and an operation to blast away (laser) 89% of my prostate; I experienced very little pain but when I came out of hospital I felt a sense of gratitude and felt I’d had to ‘dig deep.’ I have an ongoing struggle with depression and that is part of the same story – I mean the one you describe!

  5. O Society says :

    Sounds strange to say this out loud but “Glad you’re not dead!”

  6. Scott Preston says :

    Just saw this on Twitter — health system tracker across various countries (took a particular interest of course in the “post-op clots” comparison, where the US seems to do particularly well, and not so well in many other health care sectors. If I’m reading this right, that seems rather odd given the mortality rates in other areas where the US does not do so well. I’ve heard that hundreds of people are dying needlessly because they can’t afford the treatment for diabetes.

    You guys in the States really do need to get a universal healthcare system in place.

    https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/quality-u-s-healthcare-system-compare-countries/#item-obstetric-trauma-during-vaginal-delivery-2015

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Haven’t you heard? We have a universal healthcare system in place now: Obamacare.

      Oh, wait. That’s right. Obamacare is actually a universal insurance system, not a universal healthcare system, lobbied for and designed by the insurance industry. And, of course, it isn’t even a universal insurance system as the same folks who couldn’t afford health insurance before Obamacare passed still can’t afford health insurance and, in many cases, would rather pay the federal penalty at tax time for not having any.

      Of course, insurance is euphemistically referred to as “access to healthcare” in the States — even by Bernie & Co. — so, I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.

      We probably need to dig a little deeper on this one, at any rate, as Canada’s healthcare system is “facing its own challenges,” which has opened the door to private corporations now making fervent bids to take it over and “relieve the public sector” of the unconscionable burden of soaring costs. (Pretty slick, huh?)

      The exorbitant cost of healthcare is itself a problem. It’s not just a question of whether healthcare is publicly or privately funded, but involves all the mechanisms that are driving artificial inflation of the cost of healthcare itself which, as we know, has become as much an industry as any other industry. We even call it “the healthcare industry” these days.

      How sad is that?

  7. Benjamin David Steele says :

    I’m glad you are doing well as can be expected and seem to be in good spirits. Your thoughts on illness and suffering and Nietzsche are of interest. But I have such a different experience. I’m of hardy Kentuckiana stock. I’ve always been physically healthy and never have experienced much physical pain, even when I have been hurt as my pain sensitivity is so low. I’m apparently hard to kill, so far.

    On the other hand, I’ve been quite mentally ill with plenty of emotional pain, to the point of suicidal ideation and one failed attempt. Rather than worrying about and fearing death, I’ve worried about and feared life. That gives me a different kind of perspective that may or may not help me understand Nietzsche.

    If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, what does it mean when you don’t manage to kill yourself? There is no greater danger to your life than you, at least when you’re a depressive. Am I stronger for it? It amuses me. Anyway, it’s good to hear from you again. I wasn’t sure when you’d be back to blogging. I didn’t expect it to be so soon.

  8. Stephen Greenleaf says :

    Delighted to have received notice of your return to posting, and continued best wishes for your recovery and treatment.

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