Saturday, September 22, 2012

My body symphony

I had a bad report from my physician. Rather, it came from my blood test results delivered to my email, showing that my thyroid was mis-behaving. Hypothyroidism. I did what we all do...constantly google the word to control the fear to submission.

Spent a week researching all the options. Everything about why the thyroid stops working, prognosis, medication, side effects. I even called my parents because there is a genetic link, only to find that my mum suffers from an imbalance too. Then I framed the multiple discussions I was going to have next week with my much younger GP. I go through all the scenarios with him in  my head. But at the back of my mind was the idea that there is a problem with my symphony.

My belief is my worst enemy. Let me explain.

Lets start at the beginning. One of the books that I recommend to my students is Sherwin B. Nuland "The Way We Die." In it he has a beautiful description of death..."The very old do not succumb to disease-they implode their way into eternity. " Describing to my students about how specific cells are engineered to die--which Leonard Hayflick discovered and has subsequently been termed as cell senescence or cell death--and how this affects each organ of the body separately. Some organs we have backups for (kidneys for example), while others are peripheral organs that do not affect our lives (hair senescence.) But, I explain to them, that if you imagine that your body is an orchestra and you have one of the players playing the wrong song, or worse still, not playing at all, it creates dissonance. What happens when it is more than one orchestra player, and other players start to abandon the stage? When do you stop having an orchestra? This is death, when the conductor storms off the stage. But how do you define the last stages of death? When the flutists are all alone in the front of the stage?

My thyroid was off the stage. I furtively looked at all the other orchestra players. I went through my blood test with the persistence of a mathematician. Any blood result that veered away from the middle of the normality range I held up as suspect. Is that player ready to run off stage too? Can I continue playing without the trombone, without the percussion? And where the hell is the clarinetist going?

Though my life is more of a jazz and choral music, my body is regimented in its consistency. I still wear my first adult suit that my parents bought for me for my graduation thirty five years ago. 

I started to appreciate how personal ill health is. It is about me, my music my orchestra and they are not playing it correctly. 

Then came the meeting with my GP. Which went something like this: "No no no, it is the other way round, you misread the result and it is not such a bad indication. Means that you are healthy. All other blood indices have improved. Continue what you are doing."

But I can look back and see how desperate I became so that I could continue with my orchestra. To continue playing the same music that I equated with my life. 

Hiking down Cowles mountain early in the morning, feeling unstressed and in my quiet place, I started thinking about the music that I play. I define my life by the music I create. I make my orchestra play a specific type of music that makes me feel good about myself, that makes me feel vigorous, healthy. Can I still play without the trombone, without the percussion? And what if the clarinetist goes off somewhere unexpectedly? Can I still play music, and should I start changing from an orchestra to an ensemble and perhaps prepare for a quartet?

I like the sound of a quartet. It is minimalist. What instrument would I select and what music can I still play that makes me feel useful, alive and vigorous? I need to explore that. I have a task ahead of me.  I am going to prepare for my quartet and if you know me, I will be calling on your help,  more than I have in the past. Right now I am going to play Vivaldi and enjoy the return of my prodigal thyroid.

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