Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Until the Cows Come Home

If there's a book you want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~ Toni Morrison

Every now and then someone asks me why Lynn Smith and I wrote a book in the first place, and it really comes down to a desire to read. In his own way, each of us had thought about how mind and body interact to produce illness, but neither had discovered an explanation that was really satisfying.

Now that we're getting down to the wire and I'll actually hold a copy in my hands fairly soon, it's all starting to sink in. We really accomplished something, but why this particular thing? Well, for years, Lynn had done research, asking why some people recover from surgery rather easily and others, having had the same procedure, experienced ongoing difficulty. Sure, we're talking about people, not Chevys, but there's enough similarity under the skin that we don't have to rewrite the text on anatomy every time we do surgery.

For my part, I was fascinated by the ways in which the body served as a metaphor for what was going on in the mind. A therapy patient complaining of tension headaches, for example, might describe their boss as a "pain in the neck." There wasn't always a direct correlation between psychology and physiology, but the concept was intriguing and I felt something was afoot.

A chef knows the best recipes may result from accidents in the kitchen. As much as science likes to present itself as a deliberate, linear process, it can be just as unpredictable. You never know what's going to come out of the oven.

And that's what happened with us. We were two guys bouncing ideas off each other like pasta thrown against a wall to see if anything would stick. Our shared experiences told us something was happening that didn't fit neatly within the usual disease classifications and clinicians were forced to treat symptoms instead of the underlying cause. If we wanted to read the book on mind-body illness, we had to do more than talk about it.

The truth is, all of this makes me want to blush and cover my face, it really does. Describing the mechanics of writing and the quality of the friendship between Lynn and I is one thing. Give me an opportunity and I'll bend your ear about him, especially, until the cows come home. But the rest of it reminds me of a scene from the film Chariots of Fire. Harold Abrams has just won the 100 meter sprint in the 1924 Olympics and his closest friend wants to toast his victory. Another character restrains him, saying, "Listen, Aubrey, one of these day's you're going to 'win,' and you'll find it's pretty difficult to take." I think I'm figuring out just what he meant.

(Creative Commons image by
e r j k p r u n c z y k via Flickr)
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