What is the use of beauty? And what relation does beauty have to illness?
I am wondering about this because I was so sick last year. I was off from work for ten months. I am not sure that I would have returned to work except that I had been paying my own disability policy since I was in medical school. I handed the physician in charge the disability paperwork in January. I said, "You said I couldn't work, so you fill it out." He did not want to. He lost it twice. He finally filled it out. I got to go back to work. My disability company does not want me permanently disabled because I have "own occupation" disability: if I can't work as a physician, they have to pay me until I am 65 AND I can do other work.
It was a distinct pleasure to see the physician in charge turn pale when I told him about the disability. I waited from May until January because I wanted to complete the lung testing.
But we were discussing beauty.
After the acute phase of systemic strep A, where I was sick as a dog and thought I might well die, I was a convalescent. I coughed if I talked. I was sick of being in the house after 6 weeks. I also was not making money. I wandered around the summer garage sales: cheap entertainment. I would run into someone I knew. We would have the following conversation:
"Hi, I haven't seen you for a while! How are you? You look great!"
I think my pupils would dilate. Fear. "I've been sick. I nearly died." Cough, cough, cough.
They would usually look confused. Ok, I am supposed to say fine, how are you? But I was still feeling horrible, weak and afraid. "Uh. Well, you look great!"
And then I would look at them and think that I wished profoundly that I felt great and wonder if I was going to get better eventually.
I have been reading a book called Outbreak: Plagues that Changed History, by Bryn Barnard. I think I picked it up at the Quaker rummage sale. It looks like a children's educational picture book. It IS a children's educational picture book. About plagues and death. It is very well written and I like it a lot. I would like to give a copy to every parent who doesn't want to immunize their child.
The chapter on tuberculosis is titled "how tuberculosis changed from chic to shameful". Before anyone knew that it was caused by a bacterium and could be spread airborne by coughing, the Romantics loved it. They "believed that illness and appearance revealed inner truth." So consumption in children was taken to mean that the children had inherited their parents' creative talents. The quotation that "You can never be too rich or too thin" is related to tuberculosis being popular. In the 1880s, the germ theory sent all the scientists racing to find the causes of infections. Suddenly tuberculosis was no longer a sign of sensitivity and creativity, but was a low class poverty stricken dirty infection. Moral environmentalism was a new social reform movement that worked for better housing for the poor, hospitals, public schools, parks, water, sewers and the regulation of food.
It is a fascinating book. I am back at work and I still have people saying "You look great." It feels very odd. I still want to reply, "Thanks. I'm glad to be alive and not dead." I was born in a tuberculosis sanatorium, because my mother coughed blood one month before I was born. Otherwise I would be dead, because infants catch tuberculosis quickly and die. The tuberculosis sanatoriums have been shut down, but currently there may be as many as two billion people who are hosting the tuberculosis bacterium. More deaths will come.
I am still wondering. What is the use of beauty?
Elvis Costello All this useless beauty https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi50yFMZ49E
Outbreak: Plagues that Changed History, Bryn Barnard, Crown Publishers, New York, 2005 http://www.amazon.com/Outbreak-Plagues-That-Changed-History/dp/0375829865