In medicine, informed consent is the process through which a care provider explains the risks and benefits of a test, procedure, or treatment and the person undergoing it, in light of this knowledge, gives their consent. We sign consent forms for vaccinations, diagnostic tests, and surgery.
How often do we involve the cells and structures of our bodies in giving consent?
Several days before I had knee replacement surgery last month, I drove to Seward Park, created a sacred circle under a large Deodar cedar tree near the amphitheater, and did a ceremony to prepare myself. I thanked my left knee for carrying me through many adventures over more than seven decades. I spoke to its tissues, apologizing for the ways my inattention to my body had injured it. I explained what was coming: an invasive procedure that would leave my leg bones and knee joint forever changed. The benefits: the ability to walk, hike, dance, garden without pain. And the risks: severe acute pain, tissue damage, temporary disability, possibly worse (blood clots, even death). And then I listened.
The message that came to me is that the tissues of my knee—bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, blood and lymph vessels, synovial tissue—were ready. They knew that the condition of my knee—bone on bone contact, chronic inflammation, swelling, pain—had been unhealthy for a long time. They could see the surgery as an adventure. They were willing. They gave consent.
Knowing that my whole body, especially the affected part, was ready for surgery enabled me to enter the operating room with more confidence that this was the right thing to do and would have a good outcome. Throughout my recovery, I have continued the conversation, providing encouragement, expressing love, listening. As the scar shrinks down into a thin red line, swelling and pain decrease, and mobility and strength grow, I gradually resume normal activities like cleaning the kitchen, picking blueberries, going for walks.
The idea that our conscious minds are separate from and more important than our bodies, originating in Descartes’ dualism of the 17th century, is false, as recent scientific research shows. Like other dominant ideas establishing bogus hierarchies, this one has caused harm. Including structural harm to my body and the bodies of many others with far less privilege than I have.
Every cell of my body has sensation, awareness, experience. There is no separation. We are all in this life together, as long as it lasts.