I instantly trust the take-charge doctor who enters the room without looking at me. No time waster, he focuses on the bloody hand laid open on a metal table. After prodding the deep cut in my middle finger for ten seconds, he makes a dramatic announcement: “three stitches.” The nurse who preps me for the minor surgery is annoyed, for I have bled profusely, dripping onto the dark gray mat by the reception desk before leaving a detective-worthy trail to the examination room. In her eyes, I am nothing but a biohazard, and a stupid one at that. “Most people wash their wounds and then apply pressure to them before coming to the Medicentre,” she declares in a tone of voice normally reserved for bad dogs and toddlers. While I cannot deny being a dumbass with some frequency, in this case she is mistaken. I have deliberately posed as a dimwit who might bleed out if not given immediate medical attention. My spectacular entry into the clinic—bright red blood was spewing from a hand cradled in formerly white gauze—allowed me to bypass at least 23 people in the waiting area. I do not feel guilty about jumping the queue both because my injury is indeed serious and because in life I usually either wait my turn or simply take care of myself. Yet I can’t help but notice that smart, independent people are often overlooked because everyone thinks that they are “just fine” no matter how tough the situation they are facing. In contrast, fools who have limited capacities and can barely make it through a regular working day get mollycoddled by those who: 1) seem to enjoy constant whining and excuse making; 2) form their identities as strong, reasonable people by cultivating relationships with non-threatening weaklings; or 3) are unwittingly made responsible for the emotional management of an inept friend, partner, or colleague. I am mostly an external observer of such arrangements, avoiding them like the plague. But not today. I pretend to be fearful and dizzy in the hopes of tugging on the heart strings of people who have presumably entered the medical profession because they want to take care of helpless victims. I quickly learn my lesson when the busy nurse opens packages of sterile needles and dumps sharp scissors onto a gorgeous silver wheeled cart—where can I get one for home use?—while joking that it is “Amputation Friday.” I smile, and say: “I study seventeenth-century medicine, so I understand that my partner will have to hold me down while you slowly saw off this delicious blood sausage.” After that the nurse and I get along swimmingly, and I later return with a gift bag of Lindt chocolate eggs for her, apologizing that my baking hand is temporarily out of order.
You might want to know how I sliced my finger open? It happened at the gym, and was actually a squeeze rather than a cut. I was incline chest pressing with 45 lb dumbbells to failure, dropping the weights heavily to my side after 12-15 reps. During the last set a 35 lb dumbbell was in the way on the floor, catching my gloved middle finger between the two weights as I dropped my dumbbell, and splitting my digit open like a ripe tomato. It didn’t hurt much at all. In fact, the entire experience was relatively painless, until the doctor jabbed a needle directly into the open wound to inject a freezing liquid before stitching me up. Having a fresh wound prodded is counter-instinctual and I had something of an “Easter moment,” finally getting why the Doubting Thomas was considered such a prick. Once my finger was senseless, I leaned in eagerly to get a better look at the procedure, admiring the doctor as he cut and tossed away as garbage pieces of damaged skin, threaded a small fish-hook needle through my living flesh, and then roughly tied off the thick blue string as if he were trussing a roast chicken. In the end, it took five stitches to turn my finger into a tidy package, and I never stopped bleeding. My partner was there with me, ignoring the “no cell phones” rule to take illicit photos of the whole thing. “This is so great,” I whispered to him. “I was worried about having enough embodied and disgusting experiences to describe in this week’s blog post. But now: problem solved.” Oh devoted readers, do you see how I suffer, not for your sins, but merely to provide you with diverting text? The sacrifices made by comedian genius Doug Stanhope clearly pale in comparison. [Aside: Check him out right now for hilarious anti-Christian and anti-everything ranting].
What does all this have to do with crazy diets? Well, as the doctor removed my dead skin and sopped up my freely flowing blood, I could not help but think: “what a waste.” These by-products would have been treasured and reused during the early modern period, when something called corpse medicine was still widely practiced. Until the eighteenth century early modern Europeans had consumed as medicine the flesh and excretions of the human body by collecting and transforming matter from both mummified and newly dead bodies. Seemingly all manner of bodily products could be redeployed for healing purposes: urine, feces, blood, fat, and bone, as well as mumia, the medicinal product gleaned from dried Egyptian mummies. Literary scholar Richard Sugg describes how human remains were stolen, purchased, distributed, and sold throughout Europe, with the apparent cannibalism of these bodies justified by distinguishing it from the reputedly more aggressive forms of consuming human flesh practiced by the natives of South America (Sugg 2011, 113–34). So I was not really joking about my “blood sausage” finger, for it could well have become a nutritious and life-saving appetizer, served up on a cracker, only a few hundred years ago.
I was further inspired to think about historical eating habits because I had recently read a few posts by author Rebecca Harrington, who discovers, describes and tries out bizarre Hollywood starlet diets (http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/03/i-tried-greta-garbos-horrifically-strange-diet.html). Undertaking embodied research has led Harrington to mimic Marilyn Monroe by drinking raw eggs for breakfast, and puzzle over Elizabeth Taylor’s desire for steak dipped in peanut butter. The modern diet researcher is primarily interested in what it feels like to live with these diets, but also notes that she typically did lose weight while following them. If shedding pounds is the only goal of a diet, then they all more or less worked. That does not mean they are good plans worth following. As the no-nonsense Fitbabe argued in her recent post about intermittent fasting, any diet that creates a calorie deficit will result in weight loss. However, if you want to be fit and strong, rather than simply thin or skinny-fat, you will also pay attention to the quality and composition of the food you consume.
Back to my bite-sized-snack finger: I am taking this freak accident as a sign that I have been working too much and relaxing too little. The past five months have been quite hard for me, though this admission will come as a surprise to almost everyone, for I am not a negative nelly who likes to burden others. In any case, I welcome difficulty, striving to learn from discomfort and face challenges head on in a self-critical fashion. For the next few days, however, I will be spending time in a convalescent zone with my LSP. Among other activites, we will be watching comedy specials, laughing while a drug-addled Mitch Hedberg recites: “I went to the doctor but all he did was suck the blood from my neck. Do not go to Dr. Acula.” Even in my repose, I cannot escape from crazy diet ideas and historical fantasies about the human body as food.