“Bad for the Heart” (novelette) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History:
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Alma Books, 2006)
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Pantheon Books, 2008)
Original: Japanese, 1972
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2006
Synopsis: Suda is host to an illness of the heart; whether his is a physical or mental symptom depends on who you ask. Regardless of many doctors’ opinions, he trusts the one doctor’s diagnosis that it’s mental strain; thereby, he alters his lifestyle to suit the prognosis. His wife nags and nags, giving him palpitations; his work has assigned him to a remote island, giving him further palpitations. Now, his wife will spend eight months with him there and his meds haven’t arrive yet.
Analysis: As I’m not a religious person, I’m not a proponent of the power of prayer. Nor do I superficially subscribe to the common mantra of “mind over matter”; that expression has become so watered down that it basically means that same thing as the power of prayer. On a personal level, I’d like to take into considering two statements of weakness which encourage me to push through the worse of life:
1. “Pain is a signal from weak point.”
2. “Most common illnesses are psychosomatic.”
The first statement is an obvious statement—if something hurts, then something is wrong. Take this notion beyond the physical truth: If my head aches, have I not followed the path of logic? If my stomach aches, have I not followed the path of intuition? If my heart aches, have I not followed the path of emotion? This may border on mysticism and phony transcendental realms without support from the scientific method, but it’s something that guides my thoughts on a conscious basis.
Now, in any populated area where you ride public transportation, you’ll see scores of sick individuals any any time of the day, of the week, or of the season—illness seems to have infiltrated the ranks of the lemmings of the urban population. Also note, most of these office workers, toilers of corporate overlords, are slightly overweight and probably hold down mediocre job titles with a respective mediocre salary. But what ails them? Are the multiplicity of viruses of “the cold” the culprit? Or is the mentality of their “lemming-ness” the true origin of their pathetic state?
A very old but mind-tingling study from 1958 once suggested that some aspects of the common cold are psychological. These psychosomatic symptoms of the cold are similar to the results of actual sadness, grief, and depression. If these physical symptoms can manifest themselves from an internal lack of something, what other common ailments are a result of some common lack?
Now take Suda, the victim of “Bad for the Heart”. While most doctors disagree with his self-diagnosis, one doctor supports his theory of physical-cum-mental anguish. The treatment for his illness of the heart—if it were actual, the pill would cure him; if it were psychosomatic, the pills would still cure him—are simple pills. Regardless of Suda’s knowledge of his own weak condition, he still goes ahead with plans which may hamper his recovery.
If his illness is psychosomatic, if his treatment is psychosomatic, don’t you think his action which lead to his death are psychosomatic, too? Can suicide be a purely mental effort?