Smuggler to Ahab to Empathy

March 10th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

I am increasingly aware that unnatural things happened to and below my knee cap. The rigidity from the patella down and the Frankenstein-monster gap on it remind me that this was the entry for a 14-inch metal rod.

That awareness is a welcome luxury, enabled by a state change recently. I folded up my walker and switched to crutches. This is possible because of a big drop in pain as a result of moving. In turn, this lets me be more granular in identifying sensations.

Just when I thought I was about philosophized out over my smashed leg and nascent recovery, Ahab comes to mind…circuitously. The catalyst was an Explainer piece in Slate today. It went after the not too eternal question, “What’s the best way to break your own tibia?”

The inspiration for that was not folk who fall and twist their lower leg into pieces, rather the crazed and failed drug runner. J.S.P.F., as the news report identifies him, failed to smuggle nearly five kilograms of cocaine from Chile to Spain. Most of it was in the form of a leg cast. Inside that, his leg (same side and bone as mine) really was fractured. Police figure he had it broken on purpose for this ruse.

To me, with an unhealed fractured tibia, my empathy and recollection surprised me. I could feel that smuggler’s pains.

Capt. AhabThat also catalyzed another flashback, this time to high school. Our advanced English class had a typecast teacher for Moby Dick or the Whale. Mr. Berman walked like Capt. Ahab because he had a WWII battle injury that resulted in an artificial leg.

He was able and all too willing to give us one long lecture and several pertinent descriptions of phantom limb sensations and how it was to walk like that. He was articulate and students agreed that he could produce disconcerting sensations by his explication.

In my to-be-healed state, the idiot smuggler who would break his own leg produces more intense physical and emotional sensations. While I appreciate verisimilitude, his brutal and masochistic version exceeds my limits. Even so, the resulting methods description in Slate makes me squirm.

Brian Palmer has a grand time in the Explainer riffing on how you’d surely need a friend (friend?) to help you smash your leg, about hammers and hatchets, and how this guy’s bone had broken the skin. I’m rather sorry I read it.

I don’t think I could keep track of the number of newspaper and magazine articles, online stories and tales in novels or documentaries that pass through me without eliciting empathy. I suppose I am too shallow to feel others’ distress too frequently…unless I am or have recently been in a similar situation.

That seems a natural defense mechanism. Going emo willy-nilly could leave you little time or thought for your life. Then again, it can be its own lifestyle. I think I’ll stick with the must-feel empathy. That’s powerful enough and frequent enough.

Tags: , , ,


Leave a Reply