Why Are We Dying Today?

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I’ve been preoccupied with composing an account of my escape from an American medical establishment that left me to die of prostate cancer to an alternative approach in Tijuana, Mexico, that saved my life.  Pardon me, then, if I don’t opine this week upon our socio-political meltdown for a couple of thousand words.  Instead, allow me to offer a section of the emerging book that I wrote just moments ago.  The “chronology” sections, by the way, are interspersed with more subjective sections titled “commentary”.  What’s below is a section of the latter kind.

Again, I find myself having to defend the “chronology” section as a repository of facts.  The effort above seems like a broad, deep pool of feelings.  But when a crime victim has PTSD and sues the criminal for damages to help with therapy costs, date and location aren’t really as important as the fact that the perpetrator kept the victim in a cold, wet basement for a month.  The fact of feeling strikes me as no less relevant when we consider the damage done by our medical establishment.  It’s a fact that I felt myself progressively invaded by a deadly illness yet couldn’t even get a diagnosis.  It’s a fact that I was driven to think about suicide in the utter absence of any support from highly paid “professionals”.  It’s a fact that the PSA results were available long before I was informed of them, and that any reasonable person would therefore have supposed those results to be unremarkable; and it’s a fact that any such person, surprised in that reasonable supposition by the news that cancer had practically devoured one of his organs, would be somewhat traumatized.  Good grief!  It remained a fact throughout this time that I still couldn’t do more than a sponge-squeeze over the toilet bowl without a catheter, two and three months into my original blockage!

No spokesman for ___ Urology ever tried to claim that the COVID pandemic was to blame.  I’m sure I would have heard that excuse if any excuse at all had ever been offered… but no, none was ever offered.  Even if we concede that the way our hospitals shut their doors and closed their labs to non-COVID patients led to magnified misery, however, we’ve done nothing but admit that the system is a disaster.  If you can’t handle the victims of a train wreck without disconnecting all of your existing patients previously placed on life-support, then you’re running a pretty crappy health-care facility.

I’m in a hurry to close the book of memory on these sulfur-scented pages, so let me wind up the present commentary by squeezing in a thought that I’d entertained right from the start of my ordeal.  The first time I ever met Dr. X (March 12), I asked him a question so obvious—yet so puzzling—that it almost turned reality inside-out.  Where were all the Enlarged Prostate victims of the past?  Even if their enlargement was benign and not cancerous, they would have died an excruciating death within a few days because of not being able to urinate.  Dr. X gave the laconic response that people just didn’t live as long in the past.  This apparently meant both that a) men didn’t develop enlarged prostates very often because they were in their graves before reaching their sixth decade, and b) when they did suffer a urinary blockage… yes, they were goners very quickly.  He added something nondescript about the nightmarish ways that the latter sufferers would try to handle their condition.

Okay, but…  but where’s the evidence of the nightmare?  Does it appear only in med-school textbooks?  Why?  Because ancient authors were squeamish about portraying such horrors before a general audience?  Aelfric wasn’t squeamish about graphically describing the demise of Herod in one of his sermons.  The epic poet Lucan wasn’t squeamish about graphically describing bizarre (perhaps even imaginary) mutilations in battle scenes.  Suetonius didn’t seem to think the tender eyes of his readers couldn’t bear ghastly detail when it came to the excesses and orgies of decadent Roman emperors.  Why is urinary dysfunction the single sort of physical torture excluded from pages accessible to the layman’s eye?

And plenty of fellows got old, in the old days.  I’ve browsed through more than one decrepit Irish graveyard in my time.  Such places make interesting reading.  There are waves of die-off: the Reaper works his scythe most actively at certain moments in a man’s life.  Young lads doing hard manual labor with more brawn than brain sometimes didn’t see thirty.  A man who lived past forty in this group had a good chance of seeing eighty.  Where is the vast harvest at fifty or sixty—especially vast if almost all males are doomed to develop an enlarged prostate during those years?

To this day, I don’t know why prostate cancer chose me, in particular.  An inquisitive mind might look at all I’ve just written and say, “Our toxic modern environment is the evasive culprit you seek: our poisoned water, our poisoned air, our poisoned workplaces.”  Granted.  That sounds very reasonable.  Yet in my case, others around me (thank God) weren’t struck down.  If environmental pollution was the only relevant factor, then I should have had a lot of company.

I keep returning to stress.  Am I saying that people didn’t suffer stress in ancient and medieval times?  Yes, I am: or few of them, to be exact, suffered stress to the degree that we routinely do.  A Roman who wasn’t one of Caligula’s courtiers could get on with his life without great hassle.  An astronomer who didn’t publicize his findings could live comfortably elbow-to-elbow with the Spanish Inquisition.  And nobody, even among the most tormented—even Boethius languishing in his cell—was being suddenly informed that his identity had been stolen, or that his bills couldn’t be paid because a credit card had expired and his account’s password mysteriously refused to work.  We are blindsided and bushwhacked by such menacing assassins constantly, almost daily.  Even on a day when we don’t receive a red e-alert, we can’t be sure that our sailing will be smooth until we lie in bed that night.

I am conservative in most of my tastes.  Yet (or, I should write, “hence”) it annoys me when self-declared “conservative” mouthpieces praise our feverishly progressive lifestyle to the skies.  In the particular instance of cancer, we’re even supposed to celebrate radiation- and chemo-therapy as a blessing of our era.  Some of the “alternative” therapies—diet, supplements from rare plants, heat therapy, yoga—would land us in a pretty place, wouldn’t they, if we had to rely upon them and nothing else?  (Pause for superior smirks.)  Well, I’ll have much to say shortly about such “conserved” treatments, and also about extremely advanced ones that the “progressive conservative” Medi-Pharm establishment regularly slanders and stifles.  For the moment, just accept that for some of us older folks who don’t blithely punch buttons without any idea of what they may ignite, this brave new world is terrifying.

It made me a nervous wreck, at any rate: it was one of the contributing factors.  A rich man who knew that Caligula’s eye was lustfully studying his possessions could pack his tail out of Rome overnight for months at a time.  Now “they” know where you are 24/7 even when your phone’s turned off… and you, for your part, really have no idea who “they” are.

Is Fretting Over Politics Worth Shortening Your Time on Earth?

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I don’t know where my cancer came from.  To be clear, we all have cancer cells circulating within us like so many little time bombs… but a healthy person’s immune system is up to the task of diffusing them, or at least sand-bagging them.  Why did my system fail?  I didn’t drink or smoke.  I never ate junk food or sweets (well, hardly ever), and I worked out vigorously for an hour a day.  Why me?

Genetics?  Prostate cancer is particularly hard to trace in that it only affects males, of which my mother’s side of the family featured very few to study.  I was under the impression that my one uncle died of a cancer first appearing in the prostate… but my big brother says “no” to that (and big brothers are always right, you know).  So… who’s next on the suspect list?

Could it be stress?  I’m hearing more and more about that culprit, and he has no alibi in my case.  I “stressed out” horribly at times during my academic career.  I walked away from all three tenure-track appointments I once occupied, not because I was facing release or dismissal, but because I couldn’t stand the steady onslaught of back-stabbing.  (At one institution, a dean urged me to stop publishing because I was making my colleagues envious; at another, I was told—oh-so-confidentially—to cast my vote at departmental meetings in conformity with the subtle hints of our Buddha-like chairman.  At all three jobs on occasion, my schedule was deliberately arranged to keep me yoyoing to and from campus from early morning to late evening, a tactic deployed against no one else around me.)  I had all the signs of clinical depression numerous times over these years.  Could I have been incubating cancer over that span because my immune system had been worn down?  Were my ruthless “scholarly” superiors planting my future road with deadly mines?

Whatever the truth may be, I’ve certainly chosen “stress reduction” to be a prime objective in my overhauled life as a “cancer survivor”.  (I’m using too many quotes; but honestly, all of us who survive in this life are cancer survivors, whether we know it or not.)  I haven’t entirely given up social media, though one social medium has apparently given me up: several Twitter friends are no longer receiving my posts after my five-week hiatus at Tijuana’s Immunity Therapy Clinic.  (No, nothing to see there: move on.)  Nevertheless, I’m very consciously awarding a lot less attention to politics.  I know we’re supposed to be activists, to get off our fundaments and mobilize, etc., etc.  Daniel Horowitz’s interview of Shannon Joy last week (Episode 686 of Conservative Review) left me blessing young people with confidence, energy, and appropriate poise.  But I’ve personally never been able to take the field for a few downs without transforming into Cu Chulainn during one of his supernatural distortions.  I get too worked up.  The younger and more stable of you will have to play this game without me.  (Seriously, when I did indeed play high school football, my classmates remarked upon my fearsome, homicidal transformations into a fireball of hatred.  I quit the game and detest it to this day because I could never regard it as “play”.)

If what I’m about to write strikes some of you as quietism, I apologize.  It’s not my intent to endorse the attitude so common among my wife’s Appalachian relatives: “You can’t do nothing about nothing in politics.  Why vote for any of ’em?”  This is not unlike the attitude I discovered among the good people of Tijuana—and many who crossed my path were truly good people, by my estimate.  They cared about me when my own countrymen crossed to the road’s far side and hastened their step, leaving me to bleed out like the mauled traveler in the Good Samaritan parable.  I had to fight down tears when I left the nurses who had attended me.  They knew—every one of them knew well—that their nation rested firmly in the squalid hands of hooligans and shysters.  And there was nothing they could do about it, so they just got on with their own tiny bit of existence.

Down the backstreets surrounding our hotel, my wife and I would take occasional walks.  Empty storehouses and busy repair shops would alternate with ornate residences guarded by high fences and vicious dogs.  All of it cheek by jowl.  Strange.  But that’s how people live, in Mexico and in most of the world outside the U.S.  You cling to your bit of turf and try to keep it safe.  What goes on beyond the reach of Massimo’s canines is none of your business.

Defeatist?  Quietist?  Yes, indeed… but more and more, this attitude is also survivalist in the U.S. of A.  Just one very brief illustration.  Jeff Sessions, one of the most principled men in politics over the past couple of decades and perhaps the most coherent, consistent advocate of maintaining our national sovereignty over that time, recently lost his seat to an “I’m for Trump” cheerleader whose position on border security might as well be Chuck Schumer’s—or Thom Tillis’s, or Kay Granger’s: all three of them (I mean, including Tuberville) ostensibly opposed to Trump on his signature issue yet endorsed by him because they stroked his ego.  The “Trump base”—disappointingly, but not surprisingly—cannot distinguish between the positions championed by their superhero and the superhero’s charisma.  They will follow him to their own destruction (and quite possibly to his own destruction, as his impulsive reactions shred his message) rather than measure every local candidate against the Constitution.

And that’s what’s happening on the law-and-order side.  On the other… chaos, tear-it-all-down, helter-skelter—“anywhere out of this world” (in Baudelaire’s immortal phrase).  While the Republican, self-styled “conservative” punditry derides Biden’s dementia and indicts CNN’s mendacity, educated, middle-class white folks (some of them in my own family) draw all their information from… CNN, and also grow weary of masks, quarantines, and Armageddon without any speculative genius for tracing our national lockdown back to root causes.  They just “want it to stop”; and the Man doesn’t help them figure out where it started because he can’t admit that Anthony Fauci’s canonization was a gross lack of judgment (any more than he’ll concede that Jeff Sessions’ self-recusal was not responsible for the Mueller witch-hunt).

Average citizens won’t unravel this tangle; and even if they do, the President himself will continue to foul his lines even without a shamelessly lying mass media to sabotage the ship.  Our future isn’t going to be rosy.  It’s going to be a Mexican prickly pear.

But we’ll survive somewhere in the cracks, most of us.  The Pat Buchanans and Diana Wests who warn that the republic will be destroyed forever if Donald Trump isn’t re-elected have assigned death to us if we don’t get chemo.  I figure I could hunker down and live in Mexico 2.0 if I had to, though—and I figure I’ll probably have to.  (Hell, I’m already there: my government just bled my wife and me for over $300 to get a passport in case I have to return to ITC in Tijuana… and kept our birth certificates lest we try to travel on those again, and keeps all we paid into Medicare for forty years, and refuses to pay out a dime of it for the medical strategy that saved my life. Is this Mexico… or the Soviet Union?) If my future neighbors are people like the ones I met in Tijuana, then they’ll be much truer to me in our common misery than the elitist medical mandarins north of the border who left me to die as they hazed an ailing herd into costly, toxic treatments.

For that matter, Pat and Diana, what I consider most dangerous about the Left is its utopianism: i.e., its conviction that an inspired few can play God and make the world perfect.  When we of the Right, in turn, lament the passing of a Shining City on a Hill, aren’t we falling for the same mirage?  The corporatist state that birthed the Medi-Pharm Complex, you know, was a cancerous by-product of Mom-and-Pop Main Streets horribly mutated (at the expense of Mom and Pop) into ravenous wealth engines.  We lost our own way, and now the vultures are gathering around a corpse that has rotted from the inside out.

Mend your fence, grow your garden, and keep your head down.  Build locally if you can: stop letting pseudo-messiahs insert themselves into your hometown politics.  That’s my advice… and, for that matter, it’s Horowitz’s and Mrs. Joy’s.  Yet I need peace: I personally need a lot of it right now. There’s no live grenade I call fall on to save the rest of my squadron, so… so I’m not going to blow myself up in the garage. Why should you die before your time, asketh the Preacher?

Live what years God has given you on this earth.  Stop trying to make earth into heaven in your impatience with heaven’s hazy plan.