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Michael Bettencourt

Passing Stones, Passing Thoughts

Passing a kidney is a tale of how the small can conquer the large, the mouse frighten the lion, the David whack the Goliath (appropriately enough, with a stone).

I suffer from this malady which, despite my best efforts to flush my system and watch my diet, ambushes me regularly.  For those who have never passed a stone, I can only say, as many men have said, and which has been confirmed by women who also have the affliction, that it is the closest thing to having a child that a man will ever experience.  Some women with whom I’ve spoken have said that they would prefer the birth.

What causes the pain is a mismatch between stone and tube as the jagged-edged “calculus” of about a half-a-millimeter in size (think of a grain of pearl rice) scrapes its way down the ureter to the bladder - if one is lucky.  The unlucky ones have the calculi stay in the kidney and block off its functioning, requiring either lithotripsy (breaking up the stones by ultrasound - I have had that done) or surgery (haven’t had that yet).

Once the stone arrives at the bladder, it wends its way, causing sensations similar to a urinary tract infection, until one day out it pops.  (Enough said.)

My recent close encounter (two in one week) played out its usual script: intense left-side pain beginning in the lower back and moving toward the spine, complete upset of the gastro-intestinal system (enough said again), water-drinking, and an hour or so of pacing back and forth trying to outlast the pain (sitting or lying down makes it worse - walking is a good distraction).  Eventually, the body comes back to balance and I feel that warm relief that comes after pain has stopped as well as the grateful fatigue of having fought a fight and not lost.

Bodies - I muse upon bodies after something like this.  I muse about how, despite all the brilliant abstractive capacities of the brain, the brain’s prime purpose is to direct the body that houses it to find pleasure and avoid pain.  I think about how all the words sprouted by the presidential wanna-bes are really about how much suffering to human bodies they either want to inflict, defer, or prevent. Every moment of our historical place and time plays itself out against human bodies - the body is the “local habitation” of every ideology, philosophy, and faith.  There is not anything in human life which is not incarnate.

Yet as modernized human beings we don’t base our living in our bodies.  We ignore them, abuse them, overpay to repair them, virtualize them, waste them.  But the body is the only thing that matters - without it, nothing else happens, and without it in good form, nothing good will happen.  And the suffering of the body, the pain broadcast by the body - this is the one thing we know for sure that is shared by every person on the planet. It is the one unimpeachable basis for solidarity - all other options will melt into air.

By “body” here, I mean not just the body that stops at the skin’s edge but also the whole material matrix that radiates out from the body, which to me should be arranged to reduce cruelties wherever it can be arranged to do so.  We should feel the pains of others - it’s the only thing that will ever keep us honest.

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Michael Bettencourt is a playwright and essayist.
He also writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer for Scene4.
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©2016 Michael Bettencourt
©2016 Publication Scene4 Magazine


Scene4 Magazine: Perspectives - Audio | Theatre Thoughts  | Michael Bettencourt April 2016 |



April 2016

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