Monday, June 11, 2012

Mens sana in corpore sano

The title of this post, "mens sana in corpore sano," is Latin for "a sound mind in a healthy body." I remember learning it in the first (and sadly only) Latin class I ever took. It reminds me of the indelible connection between our physical and mental (and spiritual) aspects. A friend of mine recently shared an anecdote from her time working as a certified nursing assistant that reminded me of the phrase and I thought it would be a good fit for this blog too:
Mary was a sad sight. My first impression was of her large stomach, filthy mouth, smelly clothes, and gunky eyes. Mary was wheelchair bound. She did not speak or move her eyes, although people said she loved to sing. Earlier in life, she had been an opera singer. Her opera career publicity photos were displayed in her room. They bore no resemblance to the squashed, empty, lump of a woman who was now confined to her wheelchair.
When she was moved to my hall I had to inspect her condition. It was worse than I thought. Everywhere skin folded (armpits, thighs, belly rolls etc.) was bright red and raw. Her flaking, dry skin had gathered in the sweaty folds in globs of what looked like human cheese. I was disgusted, mad, and full of pity. "No one deserves to be this way!" I thought.
The next morning I gave Mary a shower. I took every pain I could to make her comfortable and to carefully restore her skin to health. Gently I soaped and rinsed her raw skin. I brushed her teeth twice over and flossed them. I wiped her eyes and washed her hair. I tried to talk to her kindly.
Eventually she started to look around and whisper raspy, one-word replies to my questions. Eventually, I told her about my interest in music and asked her if she knew any songs. She and I both knew quite of few of the same songs! While I worked, she and I sang. Her aged voice still showed evidence of her training and vocation. We smiled at one another and by the end of the shower when she was dried, dressed and warm, she was also happy.
Taking good care of your own body, or of others' bodies if they're too young or old or otherwise unable to do so themselves, makes a big difference. Today, revel in the connection between body and mind--and take a nice long, hot shower if need be! Don't be afraid to let those operatic pipes loose either!


  1. "I was disgusted, mad, and full of pity." wow--such honesty. I get very upset when I see bodies like this. It's one thing to see a body that doesn't fit the socially constructed "Ideal" Whatever. I'm over it. It's quite another to see a body that is in such pain, such distress. I wonder what happened inside of this woman to create what had happened on the outside.

    I am so glad that Mary had your friend to clean, soothe, and gently care for her wounds, for they ran far deeper than her raw, flaky skin. I'm glad she had someone to give her love and care.

    We, as you stated at the end, must remember to take good care of our bodies, and take care of the bodies of others--especially the young, the old, the disabled, the frail. And we need to be kind and forgiving of the physical manifestations of wounds, and offer healing.

    Thanks for this, Austin.

  2. Thanks, Dana. Your comment is post-worthy all on its own!