I’m sitting in the standard issue Ikea chair, and I’m wearing an industrial strength, white face mask because I have the sliding doors wide open, exposing me to air born micro-nasties. These things have a revolting polymer stench to them. The sun is warming me while the fresh breeze is cooling me. I hear birdsong all around. BF has gone off to take the waters. MF will only appear from his cave-like bedroom after a few more hours of deep teenage hibernation. The Dog is alongside me allowing the sun’s rays to warm his black body. The patients back in the transplant unit are stuck in their stuffy rooms with only their imaginations to torture them over the pleasures they are missing on this delightful Good Friday morning. We patients pass through those rooms in trickles, and with good luck their time in the sunshine will soon come. I imagine them humming the Animals’s classic anthem, “We Got Get out of This Place.”
Kant argues that we would be people of better, more sensitive moral dispositions if we were to visit the sick in the hospitals and asylums. Given his moral rationalism, that comment confounds some readers. But regardless of the ultimate basis of morality, a vivid understanding of how we can suffer in body and mind can surely aid us in understanding how we can help others. And according to Kant one of two great principles of moral life is love. The other is justice.
Due to the enforced isolation, when you are a patient in the transplant unit, you don’t see much of the suffering of others. But, of course, you are bound to go through some yourself. I do remember clearly my on my last day, when I shared a room for a few hours with two other men, one came in deeply dejected, having returned to the unit after several months of good health on the outside. He had developed diarrhea, and the doctors needed to determine whether he was suffering from some kind of Graft versus Host Disease. That’s when the new, and strictly speaking foreign, immune system begins to attack the organs of one’s body as if they are threatening outsiders. It’s like adopting a pit bull to protect you, but because it perceives you, not the bad guys, as the threat it goes after you. He sat in his bed, his head bent, and his spirit broken. His elderly parents looked helplessly on. That memory serves as a reminder that so often physical suffering is accompanied by deep mental anguish. As Kant seems to recommend, pictures like that might remind us of our common human frailty. We could use more such reminding these days. In public discussions how often are refugees presented as people who are deeply traumatized and profoundly suffering, rather than as threats to our collective security?
Lent is nearly over, and it is about the mid-point of Passover. The themes of re-birth and freedom from bondage have come up in some of your comments to my posts. I had hoped to be free of the disease and in possession of a new immune system by the end of Lent, and by great good fortune that is the case. But for the next six months or so a disappointing return to the hospital due to complications of one kind or another is not out of the question. I have the immune system of newborn, and I need to be as careful as one is with a newborn when it comes to exposure to germs. One consequences of this is that over the next few months I will need once again to receive all of the childhood vaccinations, mumps, measles, etc. (And, I think you can imagine what I might think of the anti-vaccination crowd.) Meanwhile I hope that the new pit bull-like force in my body knows who its master is.
But with each passing day, it’s a bit less likely that serious problems will arise. I passed a milestone this week. Yesterday my doctor told me that I could reduce my check-up visits to once a week, rather than twice. And blood tests reveal that 99 – 100 percent of the blood in my body now originates from the new stem cells. The transplant has been, at least initially, a resounding success. I suppose my story will become more pedestrian and less compelling as time goes. That’s a good thing. I do still have some blog posts in me, however. So, perhaps I can keep it interesting for a bit longer.