Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It continues

Day 2 of my blog. I'm not at work today (contented sigh) because my youngest son Micah had an ENT appointment and I have an appointment of my own this afternoon.

When Micah was born, he was diagnosed with bilateral vocal palsy. Which is a nasty medical way of saying that his vocal cords were stuck. They did a barrage of tests to make sure it wasn't a nerve or brain damage problem, and when that was all ruled out (relieved sigh) they said it was "idiopathic" vocal palsy. What does "idiopathic" mean? It means, basically, God knows what's caused it, and God knows how to fix it. There was nothing we could do, which for a parent is incredibly frustrating - your little child, whom your instincts are telling you to protect at all costs, is in distress, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Grrr.

The problem presented itself as a high-pitched "squeak", which the docs call a "stridor", whenever he breathed in. This is because his vocal cords were partially over his airway and the air whistled as it went down, same as sucking air through a squashed straw. The docs all said we would know when it got better because the noise would go away. Well, the noise has been significantly diminished over the first five months of his life, but it hasn't gone away completely. It's not high-pitched any more, and he hardly ever does it, but it's still there.

So today the ENT stuck a telescopic camera up through his nose and down into his throat to try and see if the vocal cords were moving. He said they were moving a bit but not as much as he'd like to see. He had said if he can see that they are moving OK, we won't have to see him again. But after the examination he booked us in for after Micah's first birthday.

It was funny how differently my wife and I interpreted this appointment's results. My wife was hoping and believing that the ENT would say the problem has gone, he's all better, I don't need to see you again. Then when he gave his diagnosis she was upset and disappointed, really took the wind out of her sails. Me on the other hand, I knew that his noise was still there, so I assumed he would see that the problem had not completely fixed itself and would want to see him again, so I came away feeling a lot less deflated. We both also interpreted his comments differently. My wife heard: "his vocal cords still aren't really moving"; I heard: "I can see some movement there, just not as much as I'd like to see to be able to say he's all better". My wife made the rookie error of inadvertently asking him to give a definitive answer on something. She said: "the fact that he's improving, would that be because the spontaneous recovery has already begun?" (spontaneous recovery seems to be the only way that idiopathic bilateral vocal palsy can be fixed). The ENT, his training coming to the fore, said: "yes, possibly, BUT it could also just be because he's growing and his airway has expanded". At which, again, my wife heard: "it's probably just that he's grown bigger and his airway's expanded", and I heard: "yes, it's POSSIBLY because spontaneous recovery has begun, but it could also POSSIBLY be because he's grown bigger and his airway has expanded".

It's interesting to me how the knowledge you accumulate in your life, say in the course of doing the job you have, the things you read and the TV programs you watch, can affect your subsequent experience of life and by extension your subsequent accumulation of further knowledge. For example: I work in a profession in which we also have to learn to not give definitive answers: "is my car going to be a write-off?" - "it's impossible to say until we get the assessor's report". "When are you going to pay my claim?" - "all things being equal, and IF we obtain this or that information we need, we SHOULD be able to settle your claim SOME TIME next week." My wife is a teacher, and is required to give definitive answers: "is my child learning at a sufficient rate?" - "well, he's only up to his third reader, and the rest of the class is up to their sixth, so NO HE IS NOT". "Will my son have to repeat this year level?" - "well, he WILL NOT pass this subject, and he WILL NOT pass that subject, and he WILL NOT have enough marks to go through, so YES HE WILL". Knowledge is always the determining factor though. My wife's work world is one of quantifiable knowledge - the children must reach this level and that level, and we can measure it by this marker and that marker. My work world is a little more hazy - comparing people's circumstances against the black-and-white of the policy wording, then making value judgements about people we can't see, circumstances we did not witness, and how far we can bend the rules to accommodate their wishes. In short, we use knowledge in a much more fluid fashion.

I am a fan of science (as well as science fiction). I love reading about physics and chemistry, except when it's something I don't understand. Hence I don't read it very much. But I love the scientific method of obtaining knowledge: I make an observation, then do an experiment to confirm my observation. Then publish the results of my experiment in a paper, and at the end of the paper make an assertion about the knowledge I believe has been exposed by my experiment. Then my peers review the paper to see if the ideas are sound or not. Then, finally, once my peer-reviewed paper has passed muster, others do my experiment to see if they get the same results. If they do, then and only then, is what I discovered considered scientific, empirical, verified and verifiable knowledge. My wife is not a fan of science and science fiction. She is a dancer, she is creative, emotive and intuitive. She lives in the world of emotion and art and all things right-brain. Therefore, when the ENT refuses to give a definitive answer on any of our questions, I am completely comfortable with this because I am able to read between those particular lines, whereas my wife experiences a disappointment of hope and interprets the outcome of the appointment as negative.

I believe knowledge is extremely important, and more people could do with learning a thing or two. It amazes me how much our modern society is bent against knowledge, and bent more towards accommodating people's stupidity and mental laziness. Examples of this? Someone falls over the railing on the top floor of the Myer Centre, and instead of erecting signs saying "don't be an idiot and sit on the railing", we put shade sails across the ground floor. Someone topples over the edge of an escalator, we don't put signs up saying "stop being an idiot and dicking around on the escalator", we put higher side-rails up. I would have thought that as society and humanity moves onwards and upwards we would have learned better than this. Knowledge begets knowledge, and if our school systems were geared towards actually imparting knowledge to our kids, and teaching them how to accumulate knowledge for themselves, rather than towards learning arbitrary facts by rote and repeating them parrot-fashion in order to churn out workers for the capitalist system, society as a whole would suffer a lot less from social ills and injustices (and less idiots would fall over the side rails of escalators).

But we also need the creative, intuitive, spiritual side of life. Without it, where would the colour of life be? If more people followed their gut instinct, listened to their inner voice, instead of just living life by rote, I believe we would all be a lot happier and healthier. So take responsibility for your own life, your own actions, and your own knowledge, but don't forget that you are a human being, who's value comes from the fact that you are conscious and breathing and can communicate your ideas and emotions, and not from what you can produce for the consumerist economy.

It feels funny blogging halfway through the day, when there is more of it yet to experience. But if you want to know what my own appointment is - this is a blog, not a dear-diary.


  1. In fact, as teachers, our job is mostly spent imparting knowledge to our kids, and teaching them how to accumulate knowledge for themselves, rather than just learning arbitrary facts by rote and repeating them parrot-fashion in order to churn out workers for the capitalist system.

    But the real fun starts when we impart knowledge, then teach them to accumulate knowledge for themselves, and THEN (and only then, just for kicks) do we teach to to question not only their knowledge, but - if we're feeling particularly pedagogically evil - the very nature and feasibility of knowledge itself.

    Then we just sit and watch them all freak out, whilst sipping coffee (us, not them), and give them a reflection test. And fail them all :)

  2. In fact, here is an interesting concept of knowledge that I am toying with at the moment: