Monday, March 10, 2008

The Quirky Quacks Club

Something about the way Oliver Sacks describes his medical experiences makes you forget he is using words you have never heard of in your life. Even with my minor degree in Psychology, he uses psychiatric words that means 'numble-jumble" to me. I've been reading Random House's Vintage Sacks and came across the 3 most fascinating people I have never met.

Miss Rose's Stolen Life

From a high-flying, high-living maidensturm, Rose at age 21 was struck by a rare case of encephalitis lethargica and lived the next forty years inside a jail cell purely constructed by her mind. At first she suffered from minor indications of intense concentration and catatonic reactions, but after a while, her whole body was so imprisoned by the disease that drooling and vacant stares became as natural to her as breathing.

After being treated by Sacks though, Rose seemed to have awakened for a while, enough to narrate how it feels to be inside her head. Mostly, she describes it as a kind of "thinking of nothing" vividly explaining that she can think in a loop or make a picture disappear in her head, and end up, ultimately, with nothing. She also tried to write down as many things she could remember about her life, but she never seem to progress beyond the experiences she has felt after being struck down by the disease. It's as if she was 21 years old forever and ever. Disturbing, for someone who is already 60+ years old.

I wonder about my life in contrast to hers. I have my whole life, as of today, in front of me. Nothing's been stolen from me that I haven't given up in the first place. Maybe next time I lose the will to live, I'll think about Miss Rose's stolen years and think of what she would have done with it. Such a waste for me to throw it away knowing that someone once lived without even knowing that she did.

The Dark Side of Tourette's

What do I really know about Tourette's Syndrome? Save for what I gathered watching Ally McBeal, not much. Yes, there's the hooting, the ridiculous touching and twitching, and the over-all whimsical Road Runner bursts of speed and movement. In reality, the media has been extremely unfair to the disease and those afflicted by it. Always, the character in any TV or movie would be a comical one, eliciting more laughter than empathy. I haven't met a Tourettic person in real life as well, and that hinders me from gaining an inside view on their disease.

In Sacks' memoirs though, he wrote about somebody who was able to live with the disease and be a surgeon at the same time. Not that Medical Surgery was ever an easy feat for anyone, but this guy, Dr. Carl Bennet, is a respected and skilled surgeon who worked on cases ranging from neurofibromatosis to mastectomy and God knows what else. If I were a patient meeting him for the first time, I'd surely have doubts about his involuntary tics and need to lunge at the walls and ground. But the miracle is, he never fumbles during actual operations. He says that whenever he is operating, he forgets he has got Tourette's and then the indications all disappear--- like a miracle. Sacks say it is the intense concentration and the ability to work rhythmically which helps him attain this. Citing an example, he watched Dr. Bennet perform a 3-hour operation without any tics or involuntary movements. After the operation, and once the rhythm was broken, his usual quirks resurfaced.

So why is that I, un-Touretted and completely without the need to lunge on the walls and ground, have such difficulty concentrating on such a simple task as writing a Terminal Report? And instead of using my will and concentration on solving the world's woes, why am I stuck on this seemingly insipid question:

Is there a connection to the word Tourette's to the Pinoy slang torete (used to describe people so very windang like moi)?

Island of the Colour Blind

Lilliputian conspiracies fasinates me no end. So far, I have added to my knowledge bank that there is such an island where most of the inhabitants only have one arm. And here in the Philippines, there is a quiet but firm inquiry on why women near the Clark Air Base area are more prone to develop ovarian cancer or barrenness. My biggest fantasy is to travel one day and arrive in an island where 1 out of every 10 male looks like Sam Milby and quite obsessed with finding Rubenesque wives who will bear them much fruit. Right.

Sacks though, being obsessed with quirks, found more pleasure in traveling to Micronesia to explore the Island where 1 out of every 12 people in a population of 700 are colour-blind. And we're not talking green-blue blindness here but total achromatopsia or the non-ability to see any color at all. Aside from being total, it's also congenital, meaning in-born. And as if that isn't bummer enough, they also have strange intolerance for bright lights. Here you have then people who live in a sunny tropical island with lush forests (flowers and birds and animals, I assume) who have no idea what color banana they're eating and would rather be in the shade. How much more ironic could life be for them? So life doth go in Pingelap, a coral atoll community amidst numerous others that has survived the rising of the sea.

The thing with having one disability is the opening up of so many others. As with Helen Keller who cannot see but feels the world around her, so does the achromatope who has learned to see the world in textures and intensity. So to us chromatopes, a banana may be unripe when its green, but they know it is so not by colour alone but by the feel, smell, and sense of it.

The sense of it, by jove. If I could differentiate a rotten egg from a good one just by the sense of it, I would deem it a blessing.

On the other hand, I am guilty once more because I have taken colors for granted as much as the other idiot. I even go as far as leeching away the colours of my day by pretending not to see most of it. What would the achromatopes see with my eyes, I wonder? Would they gasp with the shock of seeing so many hues all at the same time? What would they lose if they gain color in their eyes? Fail sensing lushness and texture and depth and distance? Would they want my eyes after all?

At this point, I'm convinced I'm the disabled one. So many people out there struggling with disabilities, while mine only ranges in my complete inability to appreciate what I have. Glad I met all of them. Sacks, Miss Rose, Dr. Bennet, Pingelap achromatopes

Life certainly is damn interesting.

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