Our body has a brain but does our brain have a body?

2019-05-25 16:13:55 By bryanforby

A citizen of Adelaide who chooses to reside in Giulianello, a medieval village situated in the hills 25 kilometres south east of Rome, I seem to attract some unlikely experiences, one of which I thought worthy of publication generally. 

On Friday 17 May the night became one continuous bout of deep lung coughing, bagpipes were playing in my chest and I had to wear a snorkel to breathe.

We all know what a bagpipe is: a bloody big bag that gets filled with air through one pipe and makes a tune by sending the bagged air out some other tubes. I heard the bagpipe serenading me as I breathed. I would breathe in to fill the bag and it would find its way out somehow, making a regular tune as it did so. I would breathe in and then listen to the music as I slowly and delicately exhaled. The melody had an aquatic quality that was similar to a tune from a wind instrument played under water. And then there was the urge occasionally to equip myself with a snorkel in order to get a decent inhale. If I had been breathing in paint instead of air I felt as though I could easily have resprayed the ceiling.

Taking a sensible approach in view of my (deteriorating) condition (my age rapidly approaching seventy) and my situation (living solo with no-one to run for the doctor) I seriously thought that I should mount the chariot and head forthwith towards the nearest ospedale, either in Cori (9 kms) or Velletri (11 kms). Alas, I assessed that I had insufficient cohesion, comprehension or mobility to handle the task, so I resigned myself to doing the next most sensible thing – stay in bed and pray.

I had a secondary problem: each time I got close to dropping off to sleep I would cop an anxiety attack about not waking up - so my body would simply not permit me to fall asleep! I recall exactly the same experience three years previously when I fractured five ribs in a fall. My auto controls simply refused to allow my body to sleep for fear that, asleep, my tortured and possibly damaged lungs would shut down my breathing and I would die.

A stint in Sydney's Concord Hospital fixed the physiological issues but the psychological issues were not successfully addressed without a few nights’ worth of Valium. As it happens I now I carry some Valium with me wherever I go – it is never out of reach. So I thought I might address my current anxieties with a dose of this most effective and very rapid medication.

And then I stopped and thought it through. The Valium would address the anxiety and I am confident would have over-ridden the control mechanisms, allowing me to fall asleep, however it came with no guarantee that I would wake up the next morning.

My mind went to the realisation that our control mechanisms are similar to other animate objects – besides the psychological (mental) controls there are also biological (physical) forms of intelligence in the same way that trees KNOW when to lose their leaves, when to sprout new shoots and bear fruit, and fish eggs laid in the sands of outback rivers that may lay absolutely barren and dry for ten or so years KNOW when to hatch and begin swimming in the quite unpredictable and very sudden introduction of drought breaking rains. So we, too, have such “biological” intelligence - often over-ridden by our assumption that our brain drives all of our controls.

[ASIDE: we also over-look the fact that our “psychological” controls are more complex than we often admit – for example that cognitive intelligence can be very successfully detached from our emotional/memory intelligence. The most recent highly publicised example of this was the successful extraction of thirteen schoolboy soccer players from flooded caves on the Myanmar-Thai border. These boys could never have been saved if a skilled Adelaide anaesthetist had not been able to have them behaving rationally enough to become scuba divers with very minimal training but “freezing” their emotional/memory controls, preventing even one of them from suffering death threatening panic attacks. To take this matter further one would need to have confidence that one could arrange the six year rental of an empty room in a central or south American embassy!]

 Back to the bagpipes and Valium. Having reviewed all aspects I elected NOT to use the Valium and opted for a more conservative approach – to talk myself down to a stage of relaxation and taking the precaution of alerting someone of my plight. So I agreed that I should send a Whatsapp message to my sister-in-law in Lariano (5 kms away) saying that if I had not made contact by waking up time the following day she should call me and that if I did not respond to her call she should assume that I had failed to make it through the night. Under the circumstances I considered this the most sensible approach. Another (in hindsight) sensible action was that I didn’t send the message.

Well, I did survive the night although I sensed that there was something rather ominous about the night’s experience and while the bagpipe continued to play the next day and I kept myself very close to the snorkel I took the approach that if I stayed in bed and kept myself warm and maintained my strength by eating butter chicken and naan I would improve my general well-being, ease the breathing and reduce the sound of the gurgling bagpipe. I also sent a message to my sister-in-law (NOT the same message!) acquainting her with my general condition, if a tad understated.

As it transpired Gabriella closely monitored my status and forcibly bundled me into her car the following day and deposited me at the Velletri ospedale pronto soccorso where, following an all-day wait and a fifteen minute assessment I was admitted to the Clinica Madonna delle Grazie for a week’s treatment for pneumonia.

The morals of the story (regarded, these days in social media parlance as “the take-a-ways”) are that:

a.      When we are crook we should be aware and cautious, not dismissive.

b.      We shouldn’t assume that our mind knows more about survival techniques than our body. We too readily dismiss physiological advice in favour of mental authority. We should “listen” to the advice that our body is giving us, especially in critical (life or death) situations. Put another way we should not always let our “knowledge” outsmart our “feelings”. Our feelings are usually more closely connected to our physical and psychological safety.

c.      As we get older and have fewer really intimate compagni we should err on the side of caution rather than boldness.

d.      We should be careful about what message we give to others. Will they receive the same meaning that we emit?


Bryan Forby

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