Staring at my genetic crystal balls



When I was quite young, I watched The Illustrated Man on television in the middle of the afternoon. It terrified me, and not just because it starred a mostly naked Rod Steiger.

Among other things, the film hinted at the end of the world, depicted the mercy-killing of children and showed one character bashing another’s head with a rock. Worst of all, if you looked deeply into the empty space of one of Steiger’s tattoos (“Not that empty space, a little to the left…”), you could see how you would die. This raises the question: where was my mother and why was she letting me watch this trash!

The film haunted me and reinforced a conviction that, given the opportunity, one should never glimpse one’s future.

Ah, stupid kid, what did I know?

At Abby’s medical appointment last week, her doctor told Deb and me that he would like to take a peek at our DNA to see how our genes match up with the one that resulted in Abby’s condition. Sure, that makes sense, nearly 15 years after she was diagnosed. How much blood you want?

But wait, the doctor said, you need to know that while we’re looking for one thing, we may find something else, say a predisposition for deafness.

“Pardon me?” I said, because that joke never gets old.

He handed us some forms. On it were three options relating to the possibility that they find… something: 1) Don’t tell me anything. 2) Tell me but only if it’s treatable. 3) Tell me everything.

I understand why you might not want to know what’s going to happen to you 30 or 40 years down the road. What if you learned you were going to suffer memory loss in your eighties? Well, for starters, by then you would have forgotten they told you…

But what if it was something that you knew would have an impact on your quality of life, like early onset juggling? Would you really want that hanging over your head?

They might discover you have a high likelihood of being diagnosed with multiple osmosis, though not constant, only on a semi-permeable basis. Or be susceptible to senior static syndrome. That would be quite the shock.

On the other hand, they might find something good. Maybe I’ll learn I have a rare genetic condition that makes me smarter as I get older. That would be pretty funny, actually. As the polyglot said to the craniosynostologist, “ƒºƒ-1(χ) = χ” Ha-ha! Classic.

Imagine if the doctor took me aside and said, “There’s a strong likelihood you’ll develop a condition known as reverse impotence.” “Whoa,” I’d say. “I did not see that coming.”

Who am I kidding, they never find anything good.

imageThe dilemma of knowing what’s in our genes lies not so much in the knowledge itself but what one does with it. As they say, knowledge is power – except the knowledge of how many times Charo appeared on “The Love Boat.” That knowledge is useless. (Eight, by the way.)

Knowing what’s lurking in your genes might, for example, encourage you to relinquish responsibility for your actions. It’s not me, it’s my genes.

That young couple in the crowded hospital waiting room with their outstretched legs and their belongings taking up two empty seats, what if it was in their genetic makeup to be self-absorbed, entitled wastes of space? Would I be forced to tolerate them more because they are victims of genetics and not merely bad parenting?

The clerk getting Deb and me our hospital cards so we could do the bloodwork, maybe she had a genetic predisposition to abandon her desk mid-transaction for her lunch break, leaving us to wait for our cards, which were being printed within arm’s reach behind her, and wasn’t in fact a jaded bureaucrat who long ago stopped seeing patients as human beings but a relentless series of faceless files suffocating her otherwise empty life, the cafeteria’s prosciutto panini the only glimmer of hope in her miserable day.

Maybe these frown lines on my forehead are not the result of being perpetually perplexed by human behaviour but caused by abnormally crinkled genomes.

Either way, I’m wrinkled and surrounded by jerks.

So, given the burden of knowledge versus the uncertainty of not knowing, did we ask our doctor to tell us everything?

You bet Rod Steiger’s ass we did!


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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43 Responses to Staring at my genetic crystal balls

  1. markbialczak says:

    I hope the everything they tell you is a big nothing, my friend.

  2. Loved this! All of it, but the following was my favorite:

    “They might discover you have a high likelihood of being diagnosed with multiple osmosis, though not constant, only on a semi-permeable basis. Or be susceptible to senior static syndrome. That would be quite the shock.”

    It induced a belly laugh loud enough to wake up the dog and the husband. And it seems that you’ve given me the perfect alibi. I have a genetic predisposition to upset my non-morning people househould.


  3. franhunne4u says:

    I liked the example of useless knowledge (how often a certain character appeared in a certain TV series) – and that you answered the indirect question therein … Very nice touch.

  4. Among other things, you reminded me of how much I miss Charo…

  5. Carrie Rubin says:

    This raises a whole host of questions doesn’t it? Ethics too. I suspect I’d make the same decision as you.

    For the record, in my reader I accidentally read your title as “genital crystal balls.” Made me do a double take, it did.

  6. Corinne Smith says:

    This is the best thing that’s happened to me all week. That means (1) my life is very sad or (2) your humour is very brilliant. Also, thanks for the medical tips. I must have abnormally crinkled genomes, too.

  7. I feel better about myself now! Thanks Ross. 🙂

  8. pinklightsabre says:

    Among all your other gifts, you really nail it with the post titles. How can’t I look, I mean really?

  9. ksbeth says:

    i went through this with my family last winter – some wanted to know, and others would not participate.

  10. List of X says:

    I’d want to know what’s in my genes. Even the fact that I write my posts as lists of 10 is, in a way, genetically pre-determined, so I’d want to know what else is there.

  11. This film was broadcast on public television?! What happened to the stereotypical peace-loving Canada? Are we being lied to?

    Are you going to publish the results here? C’mon. Your adoring audience wants to know what we’re dealing with now or will deal with in the future.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      We had only three stations as a kid — CBC, CTV and French Radio-Canada. The afternoons, I imagine, were turned over to the regional affiliates, and one of these had something called “Midday Matinee.” I don’t know how old I was when I saw this but I suspect I was home sick from school. It’s a vivid memory. I’ve never seen it since, and I had to look on IMDB to verify my memories were accurate. They are. I wish I could remember what other movies they showed in that slot. I have a vague memory of seeing “The Mad Room,” so maybe the station had a stockpile of middling thrillers from 1969.

  12. The whole world of genetic research is something we are dealing with here too. We went to a geneticist about a month ago to do some fun stuff and it is amazing what they know and don’t know these days. Bon chance, and I hope they only find only good stuff in your jeans…I mean genes.

  13. R. Todd says:

    The osmosis joke had me laughing, which just rolled on through the others. Until we hit math. Math isn’t funny. It’s the opposite of funny. I didn’t laugh (ok, fine, I did a bit.. but I’m weird, so).

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