The C2S blog draws on the arts, the social and biological sciences to explore the many meanings of health and "dis-ease." Designed to be a locus where patients, their families and professionals can meet on a level playing field, it is the natural off-shoot of the Cell 2 Soul Online Journal. We encourage the submission of ideas, essays, poems, stories, humor, and timely reviews relating to the humanities and health care.
Ranjana Srivastava has a memorable essay in the New England Journal of Medicine about listening to patients. Her piece, entitled “Nourishment” speaks to all of us in health care.
She writes that a patient, former pastor, told her “The gift of silent communion is the greatest gift you can give someone.” She learned that with some patients “instead of listening in order to reply, I [now] listen to understand, shielded temporarily from the pressure of performance.”
This reminded me of some lines Andre Dubus wrote in a short story that described how often people confessed their problems to him “and I listened and talked a lot and and never helped anyone at all. So now if someone comes to me I offer what I know I can give: the friendship of a listening face.”* Srivastava has some remarkably insights in her Perspective piece in the November 26, 2015 New England Journal of Medicine. It’s a keeper! Download Nourishment.Srivastava
*Andre Dubus, “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” appears in the collection “Separate Flights.”
Caitlin Stiglmeier is a pediatrician who spent the month of March 2015 working in rural India. Her occasional FaceBook pieces are captivating. Here is a recent one, dated May 11.
"It’s difficult to comprehend, still, the full scope and magnitude of my time in India. I felt I was merely being led to communities, families, individuals for a reason, through no control of my own. I lived much 'freer' in India, relinquishing all control over a situation yet still attempting to intervene medically when I was able.
photo by Caitlin, March 2015
This family was the first of many I saw in a migrant community in Segwa, and their expressions say it all. Mom was very skeptical, wary of the white person who appeared out of nowhere and asked so many questions. Dad was elated, stating I was a 'god in the flesh', physically here to help rather than an inanimate object in a temple. The children either greeted me with smiles and laughter or tears and tentative glances.
Brian Maurer, a pediatric practitioner, poet, writer and editor, introduced me to a fine article that looks at the arts and medicine.
Sometimes, there is no need to deconstruct. Poetry has always helped me to understand this world, and I never asked why. It has helped me, as a physician, to understand my patients and I didn’t need to put poetry under a microscope or dissect it. Even so, “The Rise of the Medical Humanities,” a rambling essay, by Belinda Jack, contains flashes of brilliance. Here are excerpts worth mulling overj:
Poetry’s use of language is at the furthest extreme from the self-help book, which is often dogmatic, insistent, reductive, bullying even…Poetry offers its language up to us and if we recognise it as true, we engage; if it fails to convince us of its truth, we let it go. And it allows for an individual engagement with the poem. This explains why funeral services so often include poems, rather than extracts from novels. Each of us can ponder what the poem conjures for us, bringing something felt into clearer and thus more comforting focus. Often the poem will be one that allows us to reconsider the absolute nature of death.
Faced with some of life’s most painful moments poetry can reassure us that we are not alone – other have suffered too. But a great poem also allows us to make sense of feelings that might otherwise be a searing amorphous mass somewhere deep inside us. Great poetry makes us understand the only half-understood; in that understanding comes relief, and it can feel very physical. This is art acting as a medicine.
One of the undersold features of poetry is its remarkable succinctness. The same is not always true of textbooks. And a corollary of this is that it doesn’t take much time to read a poem. But it does have to be read with a particular attention to detail, and that could be a useful training for medical students. You can’t race through a poem – as you might a textbook – looking for what you want to find. So I see the benefits of marrying poetry reading to various aspects of medicine.
Art is powerful preventive medicine. Looking at a picture is like walking through an endless series of doors, with each succeeding door leading us deeper and deeper into a rich experience.This journey stimulates our minds, our emotions, our souls; it makes us more alive. Ultimately the esthetic experience heals us and makes us whole. -- Robert Pope, Illness and Healing, Images of Cancer, 1991.
Susan Gubar in a February 7, 2014 NY Times essay, Living with Cancer: An Artist's View writes: "Though we accept ambiguity in art, it is harder to accept in science, harder still in medicine."
Robert Pope (1956-1992) was a dedicated Nova Scotia artist who died of Hodgkin’s Disease at the age of 36 after a ten year battle with the illness. (The link to the Rpbert Pope Foundation is not live now.) His work "reminds us that often patients and caregivers cannot fathom what we sign up for. Even when physicians try to communicate the consequences of their prescriptions, patients need to make a leap of faith.
"Mr. Pope’s paintings make one wonder: Is cancer treatment a form of religion, a means of transformation that involves its own rituals, trials, high priests, sacraments, vestments and bodily signs for people in need of a miracle and convinced that we have to be stripped of everything before we can be reborn?"
Even after two weeks, Susan Gubar's article still resonates with me. Read it if you have a chance, and the moving comments as well.
Medical practice lay a-bed, With fever to the core; Sickness festered in her head, While death passed by the door.
A string of suitors, all untrue, Had left her bed of pain, Parties of the third did woo— Though not for love, but gain. more»
Brian T. Maurer has practiced pediatrics as a Physician Assistant for 32 years. His "Marginal Notes" column appears periodically in the Cell2Soul Blog. The title "Marginal Notes" is taken from a quote by Henry David Thoreau: "I love a broad margin to my life."
"The cadavers gather in early September. After a cold, dark, lonely summer, each alone on a gurney, stiffened by cold and formalin, they are glad for the well-lit anatomy laboratory, though one or two express exasperation at the fluorescent lightening which gives their skin a bluish pallor."
Tonight, Halloween, is their special evening. Larry Zaroff presents a story about sentient ghouls with heart: Cadaver Reunion. Chill out and Download CADAVER REUNION
Author Bio: Larry Zaroff has had five careers: cardiac surgeon, mountaineer, teacher of the medical humanities, writer, and volunteer family doctor. You may contact him at: Larry Z.
The image is from the New Yorker Cover, 10/31/2005