Monday, June 18, 2007

Breath of Life

So I have bronchitis again. This is maybe the seventh time I've had it since last spring. Add that to the fact that I have only 1.5 lungs, and a severe case of chronic asthma, and that I live in a city with almost daily smog alerts, and you see the dilemma I face: I cannot breathe, ever. Coming home from the doctor's office I started thinking abstractly about my problem. Breath is roughly equivalent to life, and thus I am almost incapable of sustaining my own life through natural means. It's kind of scary to think that in any other period in history I would have died at least 150 times before now. Modern science may be keeping me alive, but is that a good thing? Will I pass this problem on to my children? How long will a plant survive without leaves for photosynthesis? How long will a toothless old lion get his food chewed for him?

Then I started thinking in economic terms. How much does it actually cost to keep me alive? With my 3 major surgeries, lifelong medical studies, and daily medication, my total bill must be well into the tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars (thank God I live in a country with free health care, and am lucky enough to have limited health benefits). On top of that, how much money have I lost from missing days at work due to illness? That's gotta be a pretty high number as well. Is it possible to put a price tag on your health, and if so, what exactly does that mean?

Finally, I started thinking about civilization in general. The switch from a nomadic lifestyle to a settled one has been the most destructive event in the history of human health. Not only are cities dirty and stressful, but large populations living in close quarters are exactly the conditions that major diseases need to flourish. Black Death anyone? Or influenza? Does this mean that I am actually a product of civilization? If so, are the glories of civilization worth bad health sometimes? Without cities we would not have achieved any of the cultural or scientific advances that mankind has created. Is bad breathing the cost of a Michelangelo, a Beethoven, an Einstein or a Voltaire? When I look at it this way, I don't really feel all that bad. At least I am a part of something greater than myself, and maybe a lack of air is what I pay for that reward. Maybe everyone has a price to pay, and mine just seems worse to me because it is my own.

In any case, there is a single -yet stereotypical- image that comforts me. Whenever I think of my health problems, I always imagine a sickly scholar, probably a monk, relentlessly copying manuscripts by candlelight in a cold room. These men who saved western culture from the flames and the darkness often suffered as I do. Well, maybe I'm in good company. Ciao for now...and remember to breathe deeply. Enjoy it, because some of us can't.

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