Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Playing through the Pain

Passover starts at sundown on April 8. We're supposed to "leave the House of Bondage." I think about the things/feelings I'm in bondage to--my fears, my obsessions--and wonder how I can leave them and enter the House of Freedom.

I just attended a concert by Leon Fleischer. Fleischer, who's 80 now, lost the use of his right hand when he was about 35, and spent the next 30 years performing the left-handed repertoire, conducting and teaching. When he was almost 70, a cure was found for the neurological disorder that afflicted him, and he's now back to performing with two hands, and playing more passionately and beautifully than anyone else I've heard recently.

He says he never was bitter, and I wonder if that's true. I wonder what the process was. I imagine panic, followed by some years of agony, and then moving to a new place in his career.

I have a friend in Houston, a poet and a woman, who was diagnosed with late-onset MS. Her first two years with the condition, she tried to work out in psycho-therapy what fears made her fall over. I wonder if a psychiatrist suggested to Mr. Fleischer that he was afraid of appearing in public and so had lost the use of his right hand. Or do those suggestions only get made to women?

The House of Bondage is often self-imposed, where Fear rules and keeps us inside. The shocking murder last week of three Pittsburgh police officers, by a man who said he was afraid that Barack was going to take handguns away from private citizens-- it's hard to imagine why he let that fear rule him so completely that he had to shoot three other people to keep himself safe.

D T Max wrote an essay about David Foster Wallace in the March 9 New Yorker, and quoted a letter Wallace wrote to Jonathan Franzen after he finished Infinite Jest. "I'm sad and empty as I always am, when I finish something long. I don't think it's very goo. [a review] called an excerpt feverish and not entirely satisfying, which goes a long way toward describing the experience of writing the thing." His sister Amy says Wallace was always afraid the last thing he wrote would be the last thing he wrote.
Those are fears that I understand; they keep me in my own house of bondage. I hope whatever fears you hold, you know a way to knock them over and find a path to the House of Freedom.

5 comments:

Libby Hellmann said...

Do we ever leave the House of Bondage? Or do we simply loosen the bars a little in one spot... tighten them in another? I had to face one of my own bondages the other day, and while I realized I was obsessing about it (it was health related),I was made aware that my situation was not nearly as dire as others. Did it free me? Make me grateful and thankful? Maybe a smidgeon... but not entirely. So the bars are still there. And they're of my own making.

Happy Pesach to those who celebrate.

Sean Chercover said...

"I have a friend in Houston, a poet and a woman, who was diagnosed with late-onset MS. Her first two years with the condition, she tried to work out in psycho-therapy what fears made her fall over. I wonder if a psychiatrist suggested to Mr. Fleischer that he was afraid of appearing in public and so had lost the use of his right hand. Or do those suggestions only get made to women?"

No doubt, sexism has reared its ugly head in the practice of medicine, to the detriment of women everywhere... But I wonder about making such an assumption in this case.

She went to a psychiatrist (I wonder if it even occurred to Fleischer to go to a psychiatrist when his hand started giving him trouble).

"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail." - Mark Twain.

If I suddenly start falling down all over the place, I am not going a psychiatrist. I'm going to a neurologist (and/or an inner-ear specialist).

All of us - men and women - have to be educated consumers, even (or especially) when it comes to medical treatment.

Perhaps sexism is to blame here, but I wouldn't necessarily make that assumption.

Sara Paretsky said...

Libby, I like the image of opening the bars, maybe even a little bit. Sean, you're right, of course. We are responsible for our health care, but sometimes the bar gets set a little high for how to take responsibility. The American Medical Association, concerned because women die at 2.5 times the rate of men from post-coronary surgery, studied men and women who had heart disease. They found that when men and women came into their doctors' offices with identical symptoms, men were 10 times more likely than women to be sent for tests. Women were usually told they had emotional problems and needed to see a psychiatrist (as a specialist once told me, "Ladies like to imagine they are ill.") The AMA study concluded that before women got treatment for heart disease, the disease was allowed to progress much further, thus accounting for their much higher mortality. So I only wondered if the same thing might happen with neurological disorders, but otherwise, I mostly would like to know the process by which Fleischer went through when he found himself unable to play with two hands.

Sean Chercover said...

Sara - I agree, the disparity of care is unconscionable, and doctors have a long history of dismissing serious symptoms as "a case of the nerves" in women. Hate to think that it still happens, but of course it does. African-Americans have also suffered from substandard diagnostic attention through much of our history.

Personally, I just find it hard to fathom accepting the diagnosis that a physical problem is "all in your head" and going off to a psychiatrist, unless one had a history of psychosomatic illness.

That said, your point is well-taken. Caveat Emptor is even more difficult when the medical establishment has a habit of dismissing your complaints.

We're getting better but we've still got some distance to go, I'm afraid.

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