Mirene Arsanios


Illness Outside Its Metaphors

“Talk about my mother” is a note I wrote for this essay. Scrolling down there are other jottings, but “Talk about my mother” is written in quotation marks, as if a voice were summoning me. My mother never talked about her illness. By the end of it, she was missing two major organs—her ovaries and stomach—and weighted just 45kg. We knew she was dying though no one ever told her because she didn’t want to know. I can’t begin to describe how my mother experienced her pain. I can only talk about the pain that’s in my body.

In a comparatively minor incident, about a year ago I pulled my hamstring. Months passed before I could resume yoga—nothing serious. Yet when it healed, the pain migrated elsewhere. It kept moving and occupying new body parts. Now my hipbones squeak when I walk, my joints snap, bones pop in and out, rubbing against sore ligaments. Generalized and chronic, the pain is no longer connected to a particular occurrence. Even walking hurts. I shut my eyes and the pain is blood red. It flashes like a siren though sometimes it’s just solid, cold, impervious to any mending.

To combat the pain I began frequenting a number of privately-owned, prosaically-named clinics. With names like “The Smile Clinic”, “The Pain Clinic” or “The Green Clinic” these centers speak for themselves, as locations where enthusiastic individuals with questionable credentials and the impersonal character of the “clinic” mingle to inspire professionalism. These are places that prescribe probiotics and fish oil to suffering rich people.

Pain is apparently a lucrative business. Physiotherapists, acupuncturists, private yoga teachers, nutritionists and even psychics will tell you miracle stories. You buy them knowing that no medical insurance will cover the costs. In Lebanon, ailments that aren’t deemed “real” or “respectable” enough (STD tests for instance) are dismissed wholesale by private healthcare plans. But healers of various sorts will listen to you, check in on you. Charlatans and professionals alike, they are the country’s clinical underground.