Pathological Confusion

Dear CF,

Up until yesterday my left arm had a very small woman roasting lamb on a spit inside it. It was a slow fire, not horrible most of the time, just there, smoking and rotating and releasing its fat and meatjuice. It’s the vestiges of shingles, which I had last year. Apparently shingles are good at anniversaries and always remember to buy you a Wish You Were Here OH WAIT I’LL JUST VISIT INSTEAD AND HURT YOU HA HA card.

The mindbending thing about leftover shingles pain is that it feels muscular–like something you could stretch or jiggle or massage—but since it’s actually an inflammation of the nerve, it exists no matter what you do with the muscle. You rub it–holy cripes. You sit and it burns. You move and it burns. You don’t move and it burns. You sleep and it burns. You touch it and it burns. Imagine having an itch that feels the same no matter how much you scratch it. Such a thing is, above all else, confusing.

Speaking of confusions arising from a mismatch between stimulus and response (and of diseases that seem muscular but are actually nervous), here are a few excerpts from the 2010 Gitmo article in Harper’s, which I came across again while reading about the Guantanamo leaks:

  • ‘The Guardsman who told Davila about the compound [outside Camp America] had said, “This place does not exist”…’
  • ‘A friend of Hickman’s had nicknamed the compound “Camp No,” the idea being that anyone who asked if it existed would be told, “No, it doesn’t.”’
  • ‘By dawn, the news had circulated through Camp America that three prisoners had committed suicide by swallowing rags.’
  • ‘According to the NCIS documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.

I suspect confusion on this scale—and the bewilderment evident in the Gitmo leaks—is  symptomatic of a deeper pathology, one that will be coming back to haunt us for years.




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