Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On the medical profession's response to health

As the previous few posts note, I had some comparatively minor surgery on my elbow a couple of weeks ago, a surgery necessitated by a pattern of falling over in various sports (to be precise: four spills, four different sports). Apparently once you partially dislocate an elbow, it becomes easier and easier to do, such that after four of these injuries, you can pop it out by, say, reaching into a locker, pushing back from the table, or putting your hand in your pocket.

With a longish recovery predicted, and Junebug coming, now was the time to get the surgery, and it seems to have been better than expected: after my 2-week follow-up, my recovery projections were halved. Back to vigorous activity by May instead of by August!

But despite the success of the surgery and the good news, etc. I have been somewhat unsettled (intellectually at least) by a series of interactions that directly preceded the surgery, some of them prep for it, and some of them part of the exam needed for new life insurance.

For example, I had my blood pressure taken about 12 times over the course of the week, and apparently, my blood pressure offers no warning signs. 118 over 70 or thereabouts. Down from way back when I was smoker, but otherwise, no surprises. And my pulse rate was usually around 60-65. Numbers that will alarm no one.

But in every single instance, the person who came across these numbers praised me for them, as if a low blood pressure made me a better person. The nurse who took the vitals for both Willow and I even went so far as to suggest that while Willow "beat" me on blood pressure, I had "beaten" her on heart rate.

Now, I know that medical professionals spend a lot of time with people who are at moments in their lives when such vital signs are not so rosy, and so there is bound to be some natural impulse to comment on the unusual fact of healthy signs. But to praise a person for performing well on such health tests seems to me to fetishize health as a competition. That somehow, my 60 bpm pulse diminishes the sense of healthfulness of Willow's 65 bpm health, and diminishes the way that Willow "treats" her body. Or that her better blood pressure diminishes my maintenance of my body. Or that my ailing mother's chronically high blood pressure (aided, no doubt, by constant pain) is somehow a moral failing.

That we think of even vital signs in this hierarchical way suggests to me the degree to which we are willing to judge, rank and hierarchize based on simplistic measurements and perceptions of bodies that are constructed in complicated and multi-functional and multi-contextual ways strikes me as, at the very least, symptomatic of a cultural conditioning to view the material body as a legible marker of subjectivity, and on a more sinister level, a somewhat more conspicuous and perhaps even vaguely conscious effort on the part of the medical community (and even more, of the medical tchnology and pharmaceutical industries) to transform physical flesh into a value marker, with ideological, moral, and capital value. Wow that was a long sentence. I'll wait while you re-read that.

I have little sense of where to even begin to combat this, though some recent interactions with disability studies scholars suggests that they are on the right track. I think I was sceptical when disability studies first started to blip on my radar some years ago, but I am becoming increasingly convinced that the cultural work being done there is critical not just to understanding certain aesthetic categories, but to creating a more just equitable culture in part through the medical sites where medicalized subjects are made most vulnerable.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

RMP says...

that I am the 13th hottest professor on my campus. (This is not true. I may not be the 13th hottest professor in my office).

I am both deeply unsettled and quite flattered, and unsettled by how flattered I am.

Anyway, there are a gazillion more interesting things to post on, like the ongoing draft of a post about how the healthy body is fetishized in medical practice, on how at this historical moment performing Brecht's plays may run counter to Brecht's actual politics, or how far behind I am on my writing goals, because of snow, illnesses, and procrastination. Mostly snow, though.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Now You Tell Me; or, how to design a curriculum after it's already designed

The MLA's Teagle Report has just been released, making recommendations on the structure and coherence of the undergraduate major in English and other modern languages. A lot of the report feels a bit platitudinous, with familiar defenses of the humanities generally, and Literature and Language specifically. I don't disagree with these, but they don't feel like anything so novel as to merit a report.

There are some specific recommendations, though, that will push some buttons, or at least that will exceed the scope and structure of the major in many departments, not least of which is the requirement of study in a second language.

Beyond this, on page 8, are specific recommendations for curricula:

It is our consensus that to serve these goals the curriculum of the major should include courses of the following types:
• courses that develop literacies in reading and writing
• at least one course devoted to slow reading and in-depth study of an artistically great work or works
• at least one small seminar to develop individuals’ capacities to their fullest
• at least one team-taught or interdisciplinary class
• a course on disciplinary issues and scholarly debates
• the opportunity to study abroad
Last year, our department revised our major curriculum (specifically on our core literary and cultural studies track), and devised a new set of requirements to accomplish several goals, some stated and some unstated, but all with what seemed like a sense of better preparing students to complete a university-mandated capstone project (which itself is implemented by the small, seminar-type course).

Many of our additions seem to correspond closely to the Teagle recommendations:
  • A foundations course designed to introduce students to the reading and writing literacies that will be developed over the course of the major
  • A major author course (replacing the Shakespeare requirement, but still to be frequently fulfilled with a Shakespeare course) that might feasibly fulfill the "slow reading" mandate.
  • A methods course (typically a literary or cultural studies theory course) that meets the "scholarly debates" recommendation.
  • A gender/multi-ethnic/transnational course requirement doesn't specifically meet a single demand, but does speak to the report's emphasis on boundary crossing.
But the other boundary crossing that the report emphasizes is disciplinary, here advocated in the form of interdisciplinary or team-taught courses. I think this is a fantastic idea, for pedagogical and political reasons.

I also think that it's the one least llikely to be implemented for reasons having virtually everything to do with cash and the increasing corporate-style management of the university. Team taught courses themselves are "poor uses of resources" since the reduce the efficiency of a seats-per-faculty rationale to department management. Here at BRU, I've been told that in order to do any team teaching, either the class size would have to be doubled, or one faculty member's participation in the course would have to essentially be gratis, an uncompensated overload. As much as two teachers in a classsroom may make great sense for learning, it does't for budgets.

As for interdisciplinary courses, or perhaps more precisely I mean inter-departmental courses, the kinds of turf wars over butts in seats that happen especially at larger institutions often mean that cross-listings and true transdisciplinary coursework is constrained. I know it happens elsewhere, but I can barely even get the theatre department to advertise my English courses on drama and performance, let alone consider an actual interdisciplinary offering. A team-taught course with a theatre faculty member? That seems almost impossible.

So while this kind of resource-sharing and boundary crossing may represent best-practices for education in our field, they seem, at least at my fairly large institution, to run up ahainst the expediencies of efficient labor management and limited access to capital. Figures.

What about you, dear readers? Team teaching? Interdisciplinarity/interdepartmentalism?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Surgery: A Success

Typing one-handed is not so easy, but the point is that the surgery went well; the elbow needed less reconstruction than expected, and the nerve block on my right arm means that currently, I'm pain-free.


When I have bit more time, I'd like to do a post on attitudes toward bodies in ORs, based on some limited but telling experiences...

Monday, February 09, 2009

RBOC: Kill Me Now version

  • I had hoped to send off the revised intro and a sample chapter to the publisher a week ago. I'm about two good writing days away from that goal, but who knows now when I'll get those.
  • The house goes on the market tomorrow, which means that after a couple of weeks of painting, de-cluttering, de-personalizing, and removing every convenient arrangement in the house for a more hidden version, our home now looks roughly as if its residents may be automatons. At least we still have our books.
  • The reason writing days will be unpredictably slim is that tomorrow I'm having surgery to reconstruct ligaments in my left elbow. I partially dislocated that elbow in a sprain injury last December, and while this is the fourth time this has happened, this one seems to have really done some damage, since my elbow keeps popping out of joint at inconvenient times, including while doing rehab exercises. So tomorrow, surgery! My ability to return to writing and blogging will depend almost entirely on how little Percocet I take.
  • Friday's faculty meeting is largely on assessment, for which I have mysteriously become department guru (primarily because I have many vocal but conflicting opinions on the matter). So it will be fun (and a test of my tenurability) to see how well I can run a segment of the faculty meeting on a contentious subject while sporting a Percocet high (did I mention that I am highly susceptible to the psychotropic effects of many classes of drugs?)
  • On top of all of it, Willow had the stomach flu this weekend, Rambunctious had a head cold, and I had the same head cold that blossomed into a full-blown sinus infection after painting all evening in a poorly ventilated room. Imperia was claiming illness just so she wouldn't feel left out.
  • The good news is, it's February, which means it isn't January anymore.

Monday, February 02, 2009

RBOC: Monday is cold, but there are some good things, too

  • That was a very exciting football game, one that the right team seemed to win, but whew!
  • Junebug seems to be a boy (or will be, when he comes out and all)
  • Teaching 1 Henry IV today. Must prep something other than how awesome I think Hal is.
  • The ton of snow that people were chattering about for early this weeks looks like it may not materialize.
  • I'd really, really like to take a nap.
That is all.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Go Stillers!

I have rooted for the Steelers since 1978, when my Grandfather, a season ticket-holder, taught me what it meant to love a sports team: watching every game and ruthlessly picking apart the weaknesses and failures of that "buncha bums."

Accordingly, every time they've been close since that glorious run in the 70's I've expected my beloved black-and-gold to not hold up. I've only actually picked them to win a Super Bowl or AFC Championship once, and that was in 2006, when as a 6th seed, they went all the way.

So tonight, I am seriously dreading the sense that the Cardinals offense will continue to be otherwordly, and that the overrated Ben Roethlisberger will throw three picks. Nonetheless, We're all in our NFL gear (save for Willow), and Rambunctious is wearing his too-small #7 jersey, and we're watching for so good old-fashioned hard-hitting football (Not only am I a feminist, I am also a pacifist, but football fanhood runs deep, I guess).