I’ve always loved learning words, but medical terminology has never attracted me: it has such a white-jacketed-and-rubber-gloved distance from a reality in which fact and feeling are always twisted together, so that even our most bland factual words come wrapped in an aura of associations that cannot be pinned to physical facts.
The scientific community doesn’t want that cloud of connotations confusing the clinical precision of their terms. And yet, and yet, when we find the words applied to ourselves or our loved ones, when they begin to be a part of everyday vocabulary and thought, when the physical facts they describe are wrapped up in our blood-and-bones soul-shells, exactly then the medical words start to accrue connotative clouds. When “myeloproliferative neoplasm” and “Polycythemia Vera” become part of the definition, not of obscure blood disorders, but of “me,” they begin to establish themselves in a realm outside the medical dictionaries.
“Blood is thicker than water,” we’ve heard. In my mind, it’s gotten wrapped up with the Song of Solomon, with the many waters that cannot quench love, but it doesn’t actually belong there. Fewer of us have heard of blood that is thicker than blood. But I am one of those few, and my blood is that blood. (So now the medical terms have in their aura a proverb of German origin and a verse from the Bible’s passionate love poem.)
The problem in the blood originates in the bones, which, as I’ve known forever but never — till now — pondered, are responsible for making the blood. It intrigues me now, this marriage of the foundation and the feeding. Imagine yourself boneless and you’ve imagined yourself bloodless: you’ve imagined yourself to death. And isn’t this the way our faith should be? The skeleton of faith, the intractable facts of sin and salvation, can’t be taken away. If you take away that skeleton, you’ve taken away the very life of faith. Whatever feelings may be flowing through the muscles of the soul, they have no value if they don’t come, in some measure, from the bones. (The connotation-cloud gains a bit of theology.)
But what is that problem? Too much production, too many red cells, too many platelets. It’s funny, in our world of measuring results and productiveness, in our age of industrial engineers plotting paths to greater, more efficient production, that too much productivity can be a problem. We’re used to the idea that we can have too much of the things that keep us alive: though our bodies are mostly made of water, we know that plunging over-head in water and staying there indefinitely is a life-ending proposition. We know that constant eating could kill us. But that my body actually makes too much? That my bones could be responsible for a stroke, a heart attack? That my bones could kill me? And I think of the problems of supply-and-demand, of mountains of fruit rotting in California during the Dust Bowl, of products on an imaginary assembly-line piling up at some crucial point until the machinery is clogged and production stops. I remember Scuffy the Tugboat in a book from my childhood, nearly being crushed where too-many-logs were being floated down the river. (And literature, engineering, technology, history accrue round the once-sterile terms.)
“Teach us to number our days,” the Psalmist prays, “that we may get a heart of wisdom.” And it’s a good time — relatively speaking — for a diagnosis like mine; there’s a lot of new research, new treatments on the horizon, and my diagnosis is mild right now and only requires the daily aspirin which makes me grin by having a heart shape stamped on one of its sides. Yet it reminds me that the days are numbered, something God already knew, having written them all in His book before one came to be. I don’t know their number, don’t know how many more medical terms will gain clouds of connotations for me before the days are finished. But this I do know: that there are words which hold comfort which no cloud of connotations can obscure. Words of my Jesus, “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” — life and immortality which no number of medical syllables can take away.
I don’t know all the ways and the whys of the case, but “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” Knowing this, I can laugh at whole dictionaries of medical jargon and all their auras of association: my Jesus holds my body as well as my soul, and He will not let go.
©2013 by Stacy Nott