Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On Death, Alien Infants, and Subtle Solipsism

Over the past few days, I've been revisiting Thomas Lynch's Bodies in Motion and at Rest, a collection of essays in which the veteran funeral director and accomplished poet muses on various aspects of the "dismal trade." Though occasionally deficient structurally (but look who's talking), Lynch's essays attempt to analyze elements of his own life through the medium of mortuary philosophy, looking at death, the grieving process and people's reactions to these things and expanding their scope so as to relate them to his experiences outside of his profession, but also in a way to the universal experience we all share. His work is always interesting, often illuminating, and graceful in a way that can only be acquired through a tumultuous and storied history. Though his commentary on death and dying is sobering, it is never morbid and is most often quite touching.

Sitting in the House Chamber alone, reading the essays this afternoon was nice. It also starkly contrasted with another discussion regarding death that I was privy to earlier in the day.

"If you go down Don, that's it. I'm not putting my mouth on you. Sorry, you're dead."

This was said during a CPR training class today, and though there was no tension and perhaps a little mirth in the exchange, the speaker was not joking. A former fireman who's a little rough around the edges, Norm's past experience with CPR and his generally candid personality meant that there would be no confusion in the room regarding his message. Just so we knew, if we were unconscious, he wouldn't be clearing our airway and giving us breaths. If someone else who was willing to didn't arrive in time, sorry, but we're dead. Mouth diseases, blood diseases, mostly digested Shepard's pie; these things would not be messed around with by Norman. The CPR instructor laughed uncomfortably, but was far too docile to butt heads with Norm. I wonder if he felt a little bad for all of us? The leader of our pack had essentially bailed out on us before we ever came close to a life-threatening situation. And did his forceful nature maybe convince some of the more impressionable among us that their comfort isn't worth sacrificing for someone else's life? I'm not sure what sort of diseases could potentially be transmitted via CPR, but perhaps it's something worth including in a training course. Would the occasional cold sore be so disagreeable as to overrule the interest of a dying person, and a person you know well, at that? I don't want to harp on the issue too much, because I'm not even sure how I feel about it. I honestly don't know what I would do if I was ever presented with such a situation.

In any case, the CPR dummies we used in the training class were interesting. There was an adult head and torso, the "Actar 911 Patrol," and an infant dummy, the "Actar 911 Infantry" (clever!). While the adult dummy was reasonable looking, the infant dummy looked freakishly like some artists' depictions of space aliens.
Admittedly, these dummies were far more interesting after the class concluded, and we began preparing them to be packed up. To remove the disposable "lung bag" and prepare the infant dummy for transport, you basically decapitate it. While this was mildly amusing/disturbing, things took a turn for the Twilight Zone when you went to reassemble the dummy. After removing the inner mechanisms, you don't attach the head back on to the neck. You attach the bottom of the neck to a small phallically-ambiguous knob in between the baby's legs. So the head is upside down and facing backwards. So it looks like the infant is in fact giving birth to another infant through its ass. To pack the adult heads up, you do something that would be anatomically equivalent to packing someone's severed head into their aorta where it enters the heart. Not quite as disturbing as the infant preparation, but slightly unsettling given the fact that you were previously using these dummies to imagine the detailed functioning of human anatomy.

Two interesting asides:

1) Clyde, age 80, said this: "I wonder what's going to happen with Britney Spea--Jesus Christ, I really need to polish these shoes."

2) I'm always intrigued and entertained by how the tiniest of actions can say a lot about an individual's personality and psychological motivations. While sitting in the chamber, I noticed a particular staff member had registers (the booklets that list all of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate) from several years back on his desk. Written in pen on the cover of each was simply, "Mine." What an interesting world this person must inhabit where such a message would be clear to anyone else who might come into possession of one of those registers. Lately, we've been having to insert a single page update sheet into every register we can get our hands on (14 unopened cases with 117 registers each today), and I was very tempted to write "Yours" at the top before slipping it in. But perhaps it's best to leave some people's bubbles un-burst.

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