Friday, June 24, 2011

Searching for Answers

My lack of posting as of late has been due to multiple issues, one of which being a flare up of a medical problem I have had my entire life that I hope to explain here, as well as address some patterns I've been noticing.

Imagine waking up feeling that all of your muscles are pulled tight like bungie cords. All of your joints are stiff, as though wrapped tight, preventing them from moving without great effort. You gather your strength and heave your body out of bed, every joint popping and cracking loudly, muscles stretching and aching in protest. As you dress yourself, the sensation of soft fabrics on your skin feels more like burlap. The constriction is uncomfortable.

Daily functioning is a daunting task. Shoes are distractingly tight no matter how loose-fitting. As you go through your day, simple acts like standing in line for an ATM induce a feeling of a vice around every joint in your legs. Sitting causes throbbing pain in your lower back and neck, as well as tingling and sharp pangs in your legs. Excessive writing causes pain and numbness through the arms, shoulders and upper back. By the evening, your entire body, every muscle, every joint, feels as though it has been beaten about.

Anti-inflammatories are of little help. Over time, a tolerance for the medication builds up. Pain is only relatively recently being viewed and researched not merely as a symptom of illness, but as an illness unto itself. We understand relatively little about pain and how our bodies feel pain and our brains process pain. It is fascinating how something so pervasive in the act of just living is so poorly understood.

My own battles with pain began when I was very young, beginning with a certain sensitivity to visual and aural stimulation. In the years since, it has expanded to the description above. I have good days, and I have bad days. Good days, I end the day with only mild aches in a couple joints. Bad days, I completely lose my composure and simply lay in bed weeping from the pain.

Chronic pain is little understood by those that neither have it themselves, nor witness a loved one experience it. When asking what is wrong, it can be baffling when someone says they're sore for no real reason. It is difficult to understand the frustration that comes with going to doctor after doctor after doctor, never receiving any real answers, or being told that it is all in your head. The pressure to keep one's composure through it all, to not let on the agony you are experiencing just from sitting in a chair at lunch; but you dare not stand, as that will cause even more pain.

For the last two to three months, my pain has increased to a barely tolerable level. I've altered my pain medications, in hopes of avoiding tolerance to certain anti-inflammatories. Significant Other has been a dream through all of this, laying with me as I wept through the pain at night, or applying pressure to my inflamed and swollen joints. His patience and understanding has made it possible for me to find the strength to keep getting up and going out the door in the morning.

I do not write this looking for sympathy. It is merely an explanation of my lack of posting, and an attempt to raise awareness of an issue I have with the medical community. I realize that the human body is a complex and often mysterious thing that is capable of some truly amazing feats while still retaining a certain fragility to it. However, in the numerous doctors I have seen since I was young (and believe me, it has been quite a few), there is a disturbing pattern of dismissiveness that I (and many people I know) have encountered. I understand doctors are merely human, subject to human faults and flaws. Even taking all of that into account, I find the level of condescension and sometimes bordering on belittling treatment of patients by doctors to be something to be ashamed of.

In the skeptical community, it is often asked why, even when presented with all the evidence, people still choose to go to alternative medical practitioners (no matter how much an individual may know it to be bunk). My personal explanation (based solely on personal anecdote) is the more personalized and intimate treatment people often receive at alternative practices. The practitioners tend to listen more to the patient, interrupt them less, and make the patient feel more relaxed and valued as a person. This more personalized attention and giving the patient a sense of being heard gives people confidence in alternative medical practices.

It is exceedingly frustrating when trying to list out and explain medical history and symptoms, to be interrupted, corrected, or told that something isn't important. Last year I dislocated and micro fractured a rib on my left side. When explaining where the pain was (in my chest, directly below my breast), my physician interrupted me and asked if I was sure it was rib pain, and perhaps not abdominal/bowel pain. After this occurred in multiple visits, I inadvertently lashed out at the physician saying that I was damn sure it was rib pain, seeing as how I had both dislocated and micro fractured a rib quite recently, and I was intimately familiar with abdominal/bowel pain. I know of others who have gone through similar experiences.

A seeming distrust of patients to be familiar with their own bodies functioning, and when a person feels that something abnormal is occurring, appears to be the norm for general practitioners. Or alternatively, being listened to intently, comments being acknowledged, and then being asked if I have ever felt the need to see a psychologist (which is downright insulting to someone who has mental illness and is quite familiar with its symptoms being separate from those being presented).

Being a physician is demanding, and medicine is by no means an exact science, I recognize these things. But to be treated in such a negative fashion leaves little wonder as to why there has become such a widespread mistrust of the medical community. This is not say that there are not great doctors out there that do wonderful jobs and treat their patients spectacularly. This is not about them. This is about the doctors that make being a patient, being ill, even more trying and stressful than it need be.

I do not know what the source of my pain is. I do however know it to be separate from my depression and anxiety, as it cycles differently. I will continue to search for answers within the medical community, despite my frustrations. My hope is that with some new research I have come across, I will be able to find a physician that can give me the answer I seek. Even if it turns out there is nothing that can be done for my condition, just having an answer, a name, a reason for my body to feel the way it does would be wondrous. It is especially my hope that I find a doctor that is willing to listen to what I have to say, and work with me in solving this puzzle.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Discrimination with a Smile

When the economic bubble burst in 2007-08, the term "Too Big to Fail" became popular. Apparently, there are now companies that are "Too Big to Sue".

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on Monday that the 1.5 million women that were attempting to file a class-action suit against Wal-Mart for sex discrimination can not file as a class and must file separately.

First, the disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. My knowledge of the law is limited. I am going off of what I know, what I have read, and what I can presume reasonable on this. Okay, moving on...

I have so many issues with this. First off, individual discrimination is exceedingly difficult to prove unless it is blatant and in your face (which is rare. People have gotten clever about discriminating in more subtle ways). Secondly, these women and their lawyers went to painful lengths to gather so much evidence, including hiring sociologists to organize the womens' anecdotes into hard data and uncontested stats that clearly show the widespread patterns the women seek to address. Third, the SCOTUS made this decision with only certain evidence brought forth (not all evidence was presented) and made a decision that blows my mind.

Scalia concludes that (even in advance of a lawsuit) the women could not show that Wal-Mart "operated under a general policy of discrimination." That's partly because "Wal-Mart's announced policy forbid sex discrimination" and partly because he rejects the plaintiffs' claim that Wal-Mart's "policy" of allowing discretion by local supervisors over employment matters constitutes a policy at all. As Scalia sees it, in giving local managers so much leeway in making personnel decisions, Wal-Mart actually established "a policyagainst having uniform employment practices." - Slate 
 Oh, Scalia. The same man that claimed crosses are not religious symbols, and merely mark graves. He infuriates me and lives in some alternate reality. His comments are classic examples in not "getting it." He doesn't get that every company in this country is required by law to have a non-discrimination statement that includes sex. He doesn't get that despite these statements, gender discrimination still happens, and that companies have gotten clever about it. He doesn't get that even if in an ideal world, "left to their own devices most managers in any corporation—and surely most managers in a corporation that forbids sex discrimination—would select sex-neutral, performance-based criteria for hiring and promotion," would be a perfectly reasonable statement; but in the reality in which we live it is not the case. People have prejudices, including unconscious ones. We act on those prejudices.

Scalia assumes that people don't act on their prejudices. He also assumes that because Wal-Mart has a written policy forbidding sex discrimination, that such a thing simply wouldn't occur! Which is odd, since he says two things that appear contradictory to me: The first being that since Wal-Mart gave near-autonomy to managers at the individual store level, that there was no store-wide pattern (despite the evidence) of discrimination. The other being that since Wal-Mart has a policy against sex discrimination, it must have the over-reaching capability to enforce that policy. So in one ruling, he has stated that Wal-Marts hands are tied in overseeing it's store managers' practices, but is capable of overseeing and admonishing them for policy violations in those practices? You can't have it both ways.

Elizabeth Wydra over at Huffington Post illustrates why Scalia and the conservative majority blocking this from being a class suit at all, forcing the women to file separately, has some major implications:

This is a big deal. Class actions are crucial for victims of discrimination or other corporate misconduct who may not have the means to bring their own individual lawsuits -- including many of the Wal-Mart employees who earn modest wages. Joining individual claims together also allows for a fuller picture of widespread patterns of discrimination or fraud, and provides a greater opportunity to fundamentally change a corporate culture of discrimination.
While the decision to not let the women file under a certain clause (and that lower courts should not have let the case progress under that clause) was unanimous, the liberal minority were willing to let the women refile under a different clause. The conservative majority blocked the class suit entirely. Steve Leser of Political Theater explains this from a law perspective, and why the current law is inadequate:
The reason is that the standard you need to meet is pretty high. You need to show a memo or email or some directive from corporate indicating that what is happening is the policy of the company. Here is where the catch 22 comes in. Unless you have a class action suit, it is very difficult to get the kind of discovery (the legal term for ability to compel a company to turn over emails, documents, etc), you need to prove a case like this. So you cannot get a class action suit certified without the evidence and you cannot get the evidence without a class action. The common man is stuck and once again the large corporation is holding all of the cards.
This is my main concern with what happened here. The law is inadequate. I have no doubt that the justices applied the law properly. The catch 22 I illustrated above is infuriating. Added to that is that the burdens of 23(a)(2) are obviously too high. If a company has a culture that has fostered the companywide discrimination that the women who brought suit were able to show without a dispute, it should be held responsible. If the law and legal system cannot do that then the law and legal system have failed. Adding insult to injury is the way Justice Scalia phrased the problem with the plaintiff's case in his opinion, “In a company of Wal-Mart's size and geographical scope, it is quite unbelievable that all managers would exercise their discretion in a common way without some common direction.” 
Scalia and the conservative majority of the court are setting unrealistic standards for what constitutes corporation-wide discrimination. As far as they are concerned, unless the entire executive management of Wal-Mart were to come forward saying "Yes! We are misogynists and  we refuse to give women equal standing or opportunities in our company!", then there would be no way they would let this case progress. It Scalia's world, women aren't being discriminated against; they just simply don't know their place.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Apparently People Like Sex

So pretty much any and all real posts I had lined up are now on hold due to a concussion I received earlier this week. My thinking has been fuzzy and my ability to type has slowed immensely due to all my spelling errors, so I have to reread everything several times to make any sense.

So instead I'll link to an interesting article at Feministing that discusses the Trojan US Sex Survey and what it does/does not tell us, as sex is super complicated. As is researching sex, because asking people about it can be kind of tricky and people in this country on a whole tend to be very closed off about their sexuality.

The article discusses the differences in views on sex between men and women, as well as how we've still not managed to define what exactly counts as sex in our society at large. The always lovely Greta Christina did a post some time ago that I adore, that questions what constitutes sex and our obsession in America with the numbering of our sexual exploits.

I find this stuff fascinating; looking at sex in not just a scientific manner, but a sociological one as well. We are creatures built to live to fuck. And the ways our society is built around that is terribly interesting. So check them out, and I should be back to lambasting or praising someone or another in some coherent sense in a week or two.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Man Down

Trigger Warning for sexual assault described in video and text.

Rihanna, an artist I adore, is in the middle of controversy right now due to her latest video for her
song 'Man Down' off of 'Loud'. First, the video and a breakdown of it's content.

The video opens with Rihanna shooting a man in a train station, then breaks to the previous day's events. Rihanna is happily spending her day in her community, visiting children, the community elders, and the local 'bad boy' hang out. She is smiling and enjoying herself. The video cuts between these joyful scenes of a girl enjoying her life and community, and Rihanna sitting on her bed looking haggard and in an emotional state. We find out why when that night, she goes to a dancehall gathering and is approached by a man who dances with her. But when he pushes for more, she turns him down and leaves. He follows after her and proceeds to sexually assault her in an alley. She runs home afterward and searches for a pistol. The scene at the video's opening is now explained.

The controversy came about when BET aired the video, and a press release was put out condemning the video for being "an inexcusable, shock-only, shoot-and-kill theme song," according to Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears. He even compared her to her abusive ex, saying "If Chris Brown shot a woman in his new video and BET premiered it, the world 
would stop. Rihanna should not get a pass and BET should know better. The video is far from broadcast worthy."

Except that the difference between Chris Brown and Rihanna is the context in which their violence is depicted. Brown's music features the brutalization of women, perpetrating abuse from one individual to others, glorifying it. Rihanna's video shows a desperate girl, coping in whatever way she can to a horrific act of violence perpetrated against her. The video does not glorify Rihanna's actions, but shows them in an honest and unapologetic way. Her response is not portrayed as ideal, right, or as a healthy way of dealing with her assault. What the video does show, is how gendered, sexual violence can destroy a person, transforming their psyche into one unrecognizable in the light of who they were before their attack. The content of the song itself shows a deep remorse for her actions.

It seems that many many people are weighing in on the powerful content of this video. Luckily, it appears that there is an outpouring of support that is starting to overcome the voices of outrage. A deep and serious misunderstanding is occurring on the part of Paul Porter and others who are attempting to condemn a woman artist that has experienced violence, for portraying and dealing with issues of violence in her work. Thankfully BET is standing by the video and defending not only its content, but the channels through which the video was approved for airing.

I love the song, the video, and Rihanna for using her popularity to address very serious and common issues that exist in our society. She deserves our support.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What Women Deserve

I love this poem, and its delivery is extraordinary. It made me tear up is a good way.