Category Archives: media

The Body Beautiful

Over the past few nights I’ve been indulging in a bit of televisual entertainment. I don’t watch a lot of television anymore. I have, like many others in the age of broadband, replaced one screen for another. If I’m not staring at my microwave waiting for last night’s dinner (version 2.0), I’m watching something, probably comedy or a documentary, on my computer screen.

Strangely the last couple of animated comedies I’ve seen, episodes of Futurama and American Dad, have had a big impact on me. They have got me thinking. I’ve also been left feeling very disturbed.

Futurama is a programme I have liked a lot over the years. I think the writing is really smart and often takes you to places you wouldn’t expect from the genre. The story lines aren’t afraid to really examine the human condition and while it is a comedy, it has left me in tears on more than one occasion. It can be oddly moving.

I used to like American Dad a lot when it came out. The characters are all very funny and some of the jokes were well executed. I don’t know if it’s me or the show but I’m just not interested in it anymore. Like a lot of Seth Macfarlane’s comedy vehicles, I find I don’t see the point in a lot of it as comedy. It no longer makes me laugh. It tends to see a line and cross it for the sake of it and to me that’s often at the expense of the comedy. Obviously, this is just an opinion. Tastes change and mine are clearly going through an evolution.

This week both Futurama and American Dad aired episodes here in New Zealand. Let’s start with Futurama. The plot line I’m interested in exploring went something like this: Hermes, a Jamaican man and one of a handful of human characters on the show, is feeling wholly inadequate. He feels that he’s not being a good enough husband and father. He sees himself as weak and insignificant. Poor old Hermes can’t even get the respect he so clearly deserves at work. Fed up, an inability to complete a task that Bender is able to do all too easily is the final straw. He seeks the services of a back ally surgeon who installs an upgrade that amounts to a retractable harpoon that springs forth from his abdomen. He becomes obsessed with becoming a better Hermes through robotic upgrades until the only thing that is left of the original Hermes is his brain, which he decides also must go. His friend Dr. Zoidberg has, unbeknownst to Hermes, been constructing a meat puppet from his discarded body parts, which he uses in a macabre ventriloquist show and so, when his brain is discarded in a final act of self hate and self destruction, Zoidberg is able to bring his old friend back in his original human form.

In the episode of American Dad, Stan’s wife, Francine, buys a dog for his son, Steve. Stan had put his foot down. He did not want another dog in the house ever again. We find out the reason is he was made to kill his own dog as a boy because he was told his dog was dying. In reality, his parents needed the dog gone because they were moving the family into an apartment that didn’t take dogs. When an adorable puppy shows up, Stan resists for about two seconds and then instantly bonds with the puppy. When he inadvertently is responsible for the near death of this second dog, called Kisses, he can’t handle the trauma of having to have him put down and so ends up keeping Kisses on life support until he finds a healer who, in the style of Dr. Frankenstein, brings the puppy back to life. I won’t go into the image that I was faced with having to process but it was too much for me. I’m sure you can find it for yourself if you really can’t live without seeing it. Eventually, Stan finds closure and puts the puppy out of its misery, by blowing it up. Animal cruelty isn’t funny and I didn’t crack a smile once during this episode. That said, along with the episode of Futurama that I described, it did make me think, which nearly justifies it.

Two days ago I saw a wound specialist for advice. The woman I saw is not a doctor. She is a nurse who is such a specialist in her field that she knows more about the treatment of wounds than most of the doctors I’ve seen.

The wounds are on my feet. Both of them. These wounds are relatively new but might as well be the same as ones I had a year ago or two years ago. I’m getting a real sense of Groundhog Day.

The nurse, who I’ve seen before, brought up again the possibility of amputation; the removal and discarding of my legs and feet. A grizzly business. If everything goes to plan though, I could get a big chunk of my life back that I thought I’d lost forever to swelling, bad circulation, doctors, hospitals, infections and wounds and infected wounds. It would by no means sort out all of my health problems but it would likely help enough to increase my quality of life, so I am considering it.

Over the last few years, I have seen a few different orthopaedic surgeons about my back as well. I have either broken my spine or a spinal fusion that I had, aged 13, might not have properly taken, probably due to a life threatening post-op infection that I suffered at the time. My spine has collapsed further with scoliosis becoming so advanced that specialist surgeons can’t really tell what they are looking at, whether the image be X-ray, CT scan, or MRI. I am waiting now for yet another referral to yet another surgeon.

The reason I found the episodes of Futurama and American Dad so disturbing is that we have got to a point in medical science where ethics are struggling to keep up with advances in medicine. This has clear implications for both humans and animals. A side effect of this is that patients or next-of-kin if the patient is too incapacitated to make decisions themselves, are being asked to make decisions that they would never have had to consider before these advances.

That I am alive at all is down to relatively recent advances in neurosurgery and the discovery of penicillin. That I have any quality of life at all is thanks to orthopaedic surgeries. I have lost count of the number I’ve had. Parts of me, particularly my back, look like a very badly constructed patchwork quilt.

All of these specialist appointments, the indecision, the increased anxiety, past trauma relived through jogged memories; it’s all doing my head in. When do I say enough is enough?

Specialists can’t tell me with anything approaching certainty that further surgery will definitely improve my quality of life. From a purely physical perspective my health is declining and so is my quality of life. There are aspects of being here, in this body, on this blue planet, that right now make up for having an increasingly malfunctioning body. I worry that this may not always be the case. I fret that decisions I make now might not be the right ones. For better or worse, they are my decisions to make.