I had a strong temptation to succumb to Las Vegas standup humor at its crudest and give this post the title "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bathroom;" but I decided to opt for a title more in keeping with my personal interests in social theory. Whether or not the event is actually funny is a matter of personal taste, but I found myself in a curious position with regard to my meeting with my radiologist on Wednesday. As I wrote at that time, I was having my first experience with a side effect from my radiation treatment; and it was not one for which I had been prepared. Apparently, the radiation was irritating the rectum, causing it to swell, thus reducing its internal diameter, resulting in a case of constipation like none I had ever experienced. As I reported on Wednesday, my radiologist was ready with a hypothesized diagnosis after asking some key questions about the stools themselves; and, after making some suggestions for what I could do about the condition, he concluded with the observation that the swelling would eventually reduce of its own accord.
That is what seems to have begun to happen this morning; and, beyond a general feeling of intimations of relief, I found myself reflecting (as I cannot help but do) on the role that knowledge may have played in this process. My conclusion is that ignorance tends to induce stress (at least among those of us who are averse to ignorance); and stress just makes a bad situation (like the rectal swelling) feel worse than it may feel under other conditions. Put another way, this is a clear example of how we construct our own reality from the knowledge we have. This does not disregard the "objective data" concerned with the rectal swelling; but it does impact how those objective data actually feel. There is no mysticism here—just the interplay of the objective world of my "body state" and the subjective world of how that state "felt" to me. That interplay was then mediated by the social world of my conversation with my radiologist; but that conversation, in turn, had to account for the subjective world of my description and my radiologist's objective world of my physiology. Thus, to move this to Ludwig Wittgenstein's turf, while my radiologist could never "feel my pain," we could engage in a language game through which he could address my "private" feelings and provide me with a way to interpret (and thus understand) them. Once they were so understood, my mental attitude could shift from suffering a malady to moving towards the healing of that malady. Hence my choice of title: One of my other subjective feelings is my sense of being a patient in the objective, subjective, and social worlds!