Nowadays, with super high tech imaging and flexible mini microscopes that explore and photograph our insides, it’s pretty easy to visualize our physiology. We can picture what we are made of and how our bodies are working, or not working, in extreme close up detail. This is useful for doctors and scientists, and for the rest of us, it can be terrifying or fun, or both simultaneously.
We imagine various scenarios playing out on a cellular or even molecular level - warring organisms and dancing strands of DNA, feisty tiny genes punching each other in a miniature boxing ring. We assign attributes to our components, giving them voices, strength, personality and purpose, sometimes at odds with our own survival. We wonder about what offense might have caused the reversal of chromosome 11 in my step-daughter, or in my case, which foreign invader came and started killing the interstitial tubules of my kidney. With anxious fascination we watch and cheer the fighters on. I was playing with this idea when I wrote “A Cute Kidney Failure,” amusing myself while stuck on the couch during my illness. I bantered with my body parts in jest, secretly hoping the message would get through and appease the insulted organs. Naming things and talking to them feels like the right thing to do when facing mysterious foes.
I was struck by the drama and humor of “Knockout Genes” by Taryn Möller Nicoll, Fall 2015 Intima. The fine lines and vivid colors make this funny illustration believable, expressive of an inner anatomical world in conflict. The insets give some sense of location but it’s all whimsical and vague. I feel the crowded cells pushing and bursting out of their membranes. I sense the friction, pain and possible relief in their escape. Not sure about the body parts represented, I create a narrative and relate it to my own struggle. Whether we’re battling infections or the inevitable degeneration of our physical structures and systems, we share similar experiences, hoping for a win.
Faith healers and other non-western practitioners often employ positive visualization techniques, asking patients to imagine their organs and cells working together to promote the healing process. Despite my skepticism about the actual science involved I talk to my ailing body with hopes that it will help. Gallows humor is a useful weapon and a comfort to share with others. It may not be a cure but it can’t hurt.
Sarah Safford is a lyricist and an educator, recently retired from NYC Department of Education. She has a Masters in Public Health and is an alumnus of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. Throughout her career she has created performances, songs, and most recently poetry, with health-related themes.
© 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine