Scars on Our Past

In Zulus we are confronted with a world that is leftover after a war has taken place. There is no denying that the world is ending, people have been sterilized, and there is no hope left. Even after Alice Achitophel becomes pregnant and some people, like Theodore Theodore, think she may be the answer to the world ending, we are left with the understanding that the world has ended, for humanity at least. As Alice Achitophel is moved out of the city her and the people she is with come across what can only be described as a scar on the land. Alice Achitophel doesn’t want to walk in it, and she doesn’t even know how it got there. In a similar sense, there is a figurative scar on the U.S. and on our medical history that we are also not willing to look at, and it could lead to an ending that parallels that of Alice Achitophel and everyone else who was left.

As Alice Achitophel is trying to leave the city, she is forced to follow Kevin Peters, since he knows his way out of the city and into the camp. The only way that they can go is directly through the scar, even though Alice would much rather avoid it. The scar is described as “red, blood-red covered channel walls, so red that she imagined them colored by life-fluids, a watershed of death (Everett: 57).” After they are forced into the scar by an approaching helicopter, they are forced to cover themselves with the dirt in order to blend in. Once they begin to do this, however, Alice Achitophel finds herself stuck, even describing her as being “Embedded in a blood-wall (Everett: 59).” Only after Kevin Peters jokes with her that there is a skeleton stuck in the wall with her is she able to free herself from it.

As Harriet Washington describes the horrors enacted on black people throughout our history as a nation, we can see that there is a similar scar on the medical field as well, except this one actually has skeletons within it. Medical Apartheid describes the situations in which black people would be experimented on against their will, all in the name of bettering the medical field, or even when they would be mutilated for non-medical purposes, as was the case for Mississippi appendectomies. Even in the beginning Washington discusses James Marion Sims, a surgeon who is often considered the founder of modern gynecology. Even though this is what people think of when they hear his name, they do not realize that the tools he invented were “first invented for surgeries upon black female slaves in the 1840s (Washington: 1).” We have long supported people for their medical achievements while ignoring the means they used to get there. This scar has stayed with us until the present, where we still don’t want to recognize what got us to where we are today.

When Alice gets stuck in the mud, she is only freed once she thinks there is a skeleton behind her. In the case of America’s medical history, it is lined with skeletons that are not able to be freed. The scar that marks the physical landscape as a result of the war also marks the medical system within the U.S. in a more figurative way. Although Washington is able to recognize the horrible history of our system, if the institutions in power are unable to recognize it we will never fully heal. As I have said in past blog posts, I think there is a chance that we will never really heal regardless, unless these structures are torn down completely.

The Associated Stigma

During my time of reading Clay’s Ark, it caused me to think about the different ways in which each character approached each other.  Although it was not stated during the novel, the reader began to uncover what disease was being passed around at the farm: AIDS.  The already infected approached one another with no care in the world as they already had the disease. However, the characters who had yet to be infected, Blake and his two daughters, Rane and Keira, approached everyone with such caution it seemed that they were afraid of them without even knowing what was truly going on.  In today’s day and age, people with any sort of disease are always looked at sideways by the public eye; those living with HIV/AIDS more so than anyone due to the stigma associated with it.

In a research report I have recently read titled, HIV Stigma and Discrimination, 1 in 8 people living with HIV is denied health services because of stigma and discrimination.  In the medical field, it is uncommon to hear about people being denied health services due to a disease they have, especially one such as this with it being so common nowadays.  I believe that it is unfair for everyday people living with such a common disease to be denied healthcare and services when they have done nothing to not deserve it.

Within the book, nobody could receive help because the disease was said to be from another planet and was so new to the world that there was no cure for it.  However, that is different in the years later because there have been treatments developed for this exact disease. People who have contracted HIV/AIDS and are able to receive help are some of the lucky ones since there is a success rate of survivors who obtained this deadly disease.  Those who do not receive health services are being discriminated against and are affected greatly emotionally as well as physically. Those who live with the stigma “tend to internalize it and begin to develop a negative self-image”.  Although this disease is more common now, the current stigma stems from the initial outlook on it from the 80s when people frowned upon contraction of the disease and lack of knowledge and awareness regarding the topic.  I believe that if people can become more aware and realize the true science behind HIV/AIDS, the stigma will become less prominent and the health field can begin to treat those who have contracted the disease as they should always have been treated regardless of the negative stigma.  

The Final Straw

Considering this is my last blog post, I wanted to answer the question “Why? Why have I waited so long to begin these posts?” I answer this with hesitation due to the fact that I am still ultimately struggling but will continue to gain help from other resources. 

The blog posts I have had to write for this class has made my brain twist and turn, think of new ideas and topics, and push it to limits I wasn’t sure I had or could achieve. This assignment in particular has been one of the hardest, while also the most beneficial at the same time. 

Blogging is something I have never done, and have never truly understood. Why would I write a mini essay with loose guidelines? Where were the ideas supposed to come from? How could these be graded with the option of including my own opinion? (Like this one exactly.) But, as said on Huff Post and an article on 10 Reasons to Begin Blogging, “Blogging forces you to teach yourself that what you don’t know and to articulate what you do know. When you begin writing a blog post, you are forced to organize your thoughts,” and I now acknowledge the benefit these posts have.

There’s a difference between writing on your own and writing with other people. In a group setting there are ideas that float all around and you are able to make them one. While I’m by myself I often struggled to come up with these ideas and make them cohesive. Writing in a group allows me to bounce off of other ideas to formulate new ones of my own

I can say I have never had a successful group project. I am always left to do the work by myself or get pushed off to the side and am unable to participate. Yet, in this class I have felt the most welcomed and pushed to question my own thoughts. When you work with a good group of people who are all putting in equal effort, it is EXTREMELY easier to formulate your own thoughts and to tell your story without getting pushed away. Feeling validated is what describes it best. My classmates and Professor McCoy make me think, and I can say I always am.

My fellow classmate, Freddie, wrote a blog post regarding the topic of blog posts in a group setting and I agree with many statements he makes. He says, “There will never be perfection when performing the balancing act that is many different ideas in a conclusive essay,” and I thoroughly agree. The group I had been placed into was exceptional, and we all worked very well together. Everyone was open and speaking their minds as others listened and transformed these ideas into their own to form one big piece. The topics have been difficult for me, as I have never first-hand met someone or experienced any of the things we discussed but I feel as though I have a better grasp on history that I may have never been exposed to.

Beginning to Question

An article assigned to us titled, “More harm than good? The questionable ethics of medical volunteering and international student placements” discusses the argument that, “international medical volunteering is done for the wrong reasons,” I find this concept compelling as I’m interested in pursuing a career within the medical field. A career within that particular field is extremely competitive. They search for people who are caring, kind, and affectionate towards others. Doctors are people who we trust with our whole lives. If you really think about it, we trust strangers to care for us, to give us medication, and to help cure us of diseases. Now that I write that and truly consider it, are we out of our minds for believing these people? Doctors and other officials began implicating western medicine into non-western environments after the WHO Primary Health Care Conference in 1978, which changed the views behind the ideas of medicine. Patients were questioning their doctors and their morals and overall a shift occurred. 

Touring places can be considered a hobby. Doctors who venture out of their way into Third World Countries to help those out of poverty and to better their health system are among people I would consider heros. But is that a good mindset to have? Doctors often have this romanticising feeling of being the healers and the idea of heroism, so should we continue to idolize them?  I hesitate to say these things due to the overwhelming amount of people who volunteer to thrive off of the poverty within that country and those who have cared for me in the past. There is discussion of structural violence which is, “the combination of large-scale social, economic and environmental factors, incl. Poverty, sexism, and political violence,” often which influence the health of the people in those countries. 

This is majorly prominent when westerns volunteer to assist with local health services. There are statistics that show patients numbers heavily decreasing when volunteers leave and a large sum of local doctors and nurses being unemployed due to lack of necessity. Doctors from the West are usually held on a pedestal and when a major event like this occurs, it leaves people full with hesitation and doubt.

Prison to Prison

In class, we were assigned to read Chapter 10 of Medical Apartheid. This chapter 10 of Medical Apartheid focuses on the experimentation and research on African American prisoners. They were held at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison complex between the 1950s and 1970s. Those men were used for experiments for dermatologists and different experimental drugs. These experiments were mainly directed to help, “thirty-three major pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies, such as Johnson and Johnson, Merck, Helena Rubenstein, and DuPont.” Also in this chapter is the discussion of the CIA trying to perform mind-controlling experiments. They distributed drugs to inmates to try and figure out how to , “produce the perfect “truth drug” for interrogating Soviet Intelligence operatives”.

Another experiment I have read about, the Stanford Experiment, came to mind when I first read this chapter. The Stanford Experiment was performed by the lead investigator, Philip Zimbardo. Nine young men were visited by police in 1971, were arrested and taken to the Stanford County Prison. Though all nine men were willing participants, unlike the African American prisoners, they were completely unaware of what could, and would happen to them. Although the prisoners in the Stanford Prison experiment were not directly tested physically, they were subject to similar psychological and physical torture. The men that were casted as prisoners were subjected to every need and want of the ones casted as the prison guards. The prisoners were deprived of sleep, beaten, put in solitary confinement, and were forced to do physical labor. Psychologically, the prisoners and the guards were being measured on how their behavior would be influenced by social roles.The Stanford prisoners were subject to manipulation and isolation. The guards were put in a place where their roles influenced them to be cold, heartless torturers.

Despite the fact that the Stanford Prison Experiment did have an initial aspect of consent when the Holmesburg Prison Experiment did not, both of the prisoners were subjected to unethical treatment for a so called benefit to the medical community.

Closing Thoughts

As a whole this class introduced me to an entire portion of American History that I was unaware of. As stated in my previous post, I really am appreciative of that, any class that teaches me about something I had no idea about is wholly beneficial. Not only that, but I was also required to try and perceive things from a point of view other than my own. Having that ability is one of the most important things a person can develop. It is not always easy to try and have a different viewpoint, people generally struggle with that, especially when factoring in preconceived ideas and other outside influences. I tried my best to address and write about the topics at hand while maintaining respect and delicacy. These novels and articles deserve that. I had a genuine curiosity for the topic and I think the blog method offers a very loose way to communicate interest without the formality that is often required in a class setting. Not to say it’s lazy writing, but the blog method allows a person to question things without having a definitive answer, unlike a paper or exam that requires you to simply “know”. It encourages learning in my opinion, because like I had seen in many blog posts, students picked a topic that interested them, and they often ended up citing outside sources that went beyond the course material. That is a pretty solid indicator of genuine interest instead of forced application. My personal favorite was tackling the idea of consent. I liked the nuance surrounding and the ability to nitpick in a way. Where some things were clear, others were blurry, and that allows for a lot of discussion.

Human to Human

As I write one of my final blog posts for this class, I’ve come to realize that the way in which I examine novels and articles have completely changed.  I began this class knowing how to annotate an article or passage of reading but never understood how to pull it apart and dissect it in such ways that we have throughout this course.  This course has gotten me to think in terms that I never thought I would have to but topics discussed in group settings opened my eyes to new ideas and concepts.  

I believe that the group discussion held every class day were vital to my learning, experience and overall growth as a student and human.  I was able to talk through my ideas and not fully finished concepts from books that we read or even short articles from the modules. Throughout the class, I was shocked with some concepts that my peers had come up with or ways in which they analyzed the texts; some ideas I never would have thought of had I read it by myself and never had a discussion with anyone.  One idea that stuck out to me the most in a group discussion was the fact that human bodies seem to be more valued than the person themselves. It was such an eye-opening statement made by a fellow classmate that it got me thinking during the rest of the class time. I came to the conclusion, based off what we had read from Medical Apartheid, Fortune’s Bones, and a plethera of other books that they were indeed correct.  Researchers are the main culprit in the validity of this statement because they seem to care about the person for the data and statistics rather than who they are as a human being. Olivia had mentioned in a recent post that humans do not value other humans, and this ideal stands true in fact with an in-class discussion and a topic talked about in an article titled, Grave Robbing, Black Cemeteries, and the American Medical School.  Students in medical school had robbed bodies from their graves and using the bodies as cadavers to dissect and experiment on.  These test subjects had no way to consent to this process or tests; nor did their families for them. The families and friends of these bodies were never notified or made aware that their late loved one had been maliciously dug up from their resting spot and put on a cold, metal slab to be experimented on for whatever the cause may be.

Without that one group discussion, I never would’ve been exposed to the idea that humans were ever treated this poorly for the sake of experimentation.  I could have assumed from different readings and daily experiences that people weren’t treated equally but I never would have imagined it being this horrific and that other humans could be so spiteful.

Trauma at it’s Most Authentic

An overarching theme that I have noticed throughout the semester is that people handle their trauma in very different ways. There is no set way for someone to acknowledge what has happened to them, just like there is no set way for a person to be traumatized in the first place. Even by going through the action of reading these books people may be forced to confront traumatic experiences from their past by seeing their own reactions through the eyes of a character. Even by saying that people are forced to confront traumatic experiences I am ignoring the fact that many will not be able to acknowledge these experiences depending on what they went through, and also how they have managed it.

From a personal standpoint, Zone One was difficult for me to read. While all of the literature we have had to read for this class has been gut-wrenching in more ways than one, Zone One seemed to take on a tone that really impacted me as a reader. I don’t know how else to describe the tone of the book and its impact on me other than saying it spoke to me deeply. I found it hard to get through because it felt like a mirror, when my assumption was that it would be another book about zombies. In many ways I think that is how the class has been structured. Whatever we thought going into the class I think we have each found out that things are so much worse than we previously realized. Similarly to Zulus, Zone One begins after the end of the world has already taken place. Unlike Zulus, where Alice Achitophel and Kevin Peters decide to release the Agent and end human life, in Zone One Mark Spitz fights to keep living his life. They have each been through the end of the world, but Mark Spitz ends up having a fight in him that allows him to march on. In Clay’s Ark where those infected by the organism are forced to keep living because the organism will not allow them to die, in this case Mark moves on because he is willing himself to do so.

By moving forward with his life Mark could be classified as a survivor. Even in today’s society people who are told that they are survivors are heralded for their courage and their ability to live in the darkest situations. There is not always as much attention placed on what the survivors are left to feel after they have officially survived. In Zone One they acknowledge Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, or PASD, and the symptoms that go along with it. Everyone is impacted by the apocalypse in their own way, and it can all be classified as PASD, unless, of course, you have been turned into a skel. But in many ways, even though the skels are defined as completely different people, after going through PASD everyone is a completely different person. Mark even says “Everyone was fucked up in their own way; as before, it was a mark of one’s individuality (Whitehead: 17).” Although he thinks everyone had their own issues before as well, those issues have changed since the outbreak began.

I think that Whitehead does an excellent job at defining what going through a traumatic event is like, even in comparison to the other books we have read. The entirety of Zone One takes place within three days, with space for flashbacks. When you are experiencing a traumatic event you have to move day by day, and that is the most you can do. Even in the wake of a traumatic event your life doesn’t just start back up where it began; there is a new life waiting for you. After Mark has decided to leave Zone One, he says “Let the cracks between things widen until they are no longer cracks but the new places for things. That was where they were now. The world wasn’t ending: it had ended and now they were in the new place. They could not recognize it because they had never seen it before (Whitehead: 321).” What Whitehead was able to do that I have never experienced before is to honestly portray what it is like to live with trauma while trying to get used to your new life. Mark tries to keep living his life the same way he always had, which was by keeping his head down and staying in line, but by the end he realizes that he can no longer be that person. After your life changes you have to change with it, and if you don’t you will be swallowed whole.

Words and Encouraging Not Knowing Everything

I found our class discussion on words to be very enjoyable and interesting. Watching everyone pick a word that they didn’t know was a pleasant exercise, and it normalized the daunting task that was trying to decipher “Zone One”. I think it was a mature way of addressing the fact that “yes this is a difficult novel and we don’t have to pretend we’re all geniuses”. I also enjoyed seeing the words themselves, some students picked words that I had known the same way I’m sure some knew the word that I had chosen. I think it’s important to be open in a setting like that, there were no efforts to disparage someone for not knowing something, and when that is the case, people are more inclined to share their ideas without fear that what they’re saying is unintelligent. I know that there have been an exorbitant amount of times where I said something absolutely stupid, and it is always reassuring to know that you have the ability to work through bad ideas without ridicule. Perhaps I’m digging a little deep for an exercise that came down to “words are hard”, but I really do think that even something small like that makes for a better classroom experience, and I think anything that encourages talking about difficulties a person faces should be implemented in classrooms.

What is Interesting

Throughout the novel, Home, by Toni Morrison, I was taken aback by many concepts.  At first, I was confused and questioned what was truly going on but as I continued on, concepts began to become more clear and made more sense.  By piecing together each event and understanding what was happening, the novel became more interesting to me. I started to think more about each little thing and connected occurring events back to previous ones from earlier on in the novel.  

To me, the true meaning of “interesting” is when something catches my eye and I begin to actively think about it and figure out what its true meaning is.  I also consider certain concepts and ideas interesting when they pique my interest and allow me to think critically and more advanced than I was before reading about them.  One concept that became interesting to me later on in the book was when Cee displayed her angst after being told that she was unable to have children when she decided it was the right time to do so.  Prior to her finding out that she was unable to have children, there was no interest expressed from her that she would’ve liked to later on in life. It makes me think about the times that I may never have thought of doing something but the second I heard that I couldn’t do it, was the exact moment that it was all I could think about.  It was a pivotal moment in the book because it was when Frank realized that his baby sister wasn’t a baby anymore and could make decisions on her own without any input from her older brother. He felt a sense of devastation since it came across that he wasn’t needed by her anymore due to this one decision; he had never been told by Cee that she wanted to have children so when he heard it for the first time, he was taken aback and didn’t know what to think.  Frank was no longer the older brother who could guide Cee through her life and protect her from every small incident that could possibly happen to her. It was an alien concept to him and he was unable to fathom the idea of not protecting his little sister anymore.

Another concept that I found interesting was at the end of the book.  In the last two chapters, Frank and Cee decided to visit the site where the father from the fight years prior was buried.  Frank had laid the bones down in the quilt ever so carefully that he didn’t destroy the remains and treated them with respect as if the father was still alive.  Once Frank and Cee paid their respect at the make-shift grave Cee decided that it was time to go home. She tapped Frank on the shoulder and said “Come on, brother. Let’s go home.”  It was the turning point at, ironically, the end of the book. It showed the readers that Cee was finally grown up and could make decisions on her own without her big brother. This whole book was “interesting” to me and had me thinking during every chapter about each concept and scene that occurred describing the lives that Frank and Cee were going through.