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.
Gavin Francis is a Scottish physician and writer. He was raised in Fife, Scotland, and now lives in Edinburgh where he works as a GP. His new book, Adventures in Human Being is a real keeper.
From the Guardian review: "It is grand, eloquent stuff, occasionally humorous, frequently moving, and invariably informative. In other hands, Adventures in Human Being might well have become cluttered with cliche, detail or sentimentality but Francis has a lightness of touch that helps him avoid these pitfalls. His use of quotes is sparing but erudite and his lack of self-importance – not a characteristic in his profession – is welcome. The end result is a thoroughly entertaining, provocative work."
Oliver Sacks died on August 30. Many of us have read his books and articles. His last book, “On The Move” gives insight into Sacks, the man. We have followed his oeuvre for decades, yet the most touching piece he wrote, (in our humble opinion) was published posthumously in the New Yorker on September 14th.
Stomach acid is an unseen factor in the digestive process. However, for some people it is threatening because of the suffering it can inflict. Despite numerous physicians doing their best to ease the ailments caused by my acidity issues, since childhood, I have suffered more than one long bout of struggling to moderate this culprit. An embarrassing incident, long ago when I was in the third grade, resulted in hydrochloric acid having a starring role as a villain in my life.
"The Third grade class at Immaculate Conception school was composed of about thirty students, young, shiny-faced beacons of potential. I was among the throng of hope, anxious to do everything to the high expectations of my mother and my godmother.
I had a history of stomachaches. Nausea. Cramping. Vague discomfort. The school nurse was accustomed to my regular visits. She mentioned them to my aunt, a nurse supervisor at the hospital, who was visiting the school. My aunt looked at me briefly, and answered over her shoulder "Nerves." It was an unofficial diagnosis, but I could tell the school nurse believed it. She didn't write a note, just picked up the phone to summon my overburdened mother to interrupt her day and rescue me."
Author Bio: Katina Pontikes writes in retirement as a form of therapy and introspection. She lives in Houston, Texas and on the shore of Lake Chapala in Mexico, where she counts herself fortunate to enjoy the adventures of an expat. She still has stomach issues, only now she takes an acid suppressing medication, never quite able to tame the stomach monster. Email:email@example.com
There’s an old French saying: to cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always. It could serve a mantra for all health care professionals. It reminds us that it can be more important to treat the person who has the disease than it is to treat the disease the person has.
Two recent vignettes were sent to us that illustrate these points.
Persistent scratches ripping
through the tranquility of the night,
and bedsheets dusty with flaked skin,
mingled with dried blood in the mornings.
Her skin stained with the purple sting of potassium permanganate,
burning from the relentless scorch of tea tree oil, smothered in topical
Bandaged to retain moisture. Unbandaged to promote air flow.
A blur of diagnoses and
“diagnoses” paraded by,
convictions by professionals and well-meaning relatives:
“No heat, no chlorine, no sunshine, no pollen. No butter, no wheat, no potato chips,
no fat, no chocolate, no seafood, no meat, no sugar, no salt!”
Too much American food. oxidized oils,
pesticides, hormones-those damn Oreos, all to blame.
“This doesn’t appear to be a food allergy, but we can run some tests…”
“You see, the American doctors don’t study this. This is a question of inner
A question of hotness and coldness of the body, toxicity, mystery, cortisone
And a vicious cycle of irritation, scratching,
skin, infection, itchiness,
scolding, shouting, scratching…
And the mingling of voices of
authority spilled over the reddened cracks in her skin
and filled her heart with guilt and inadequacy.
“You are the only one who knows your body. Only you can know what to do for yourself-”
And the bitterness of her condition was accentuated
with the bitterness of soups and broths and
darkly resplendent with Chinese medicinal herbs, kernels, stalks, and shoots.
disappointment and failures came desperation
Cycling through past attempts, various diets.
The doctors’ echoes weren’t very much help-
the relief provided through the prescribed creams and ointments was ephemeral.
Though some knowledge provided comfort - like the dreaded skin prick testing -
back gridded into a 5x7 rectangle and stabbed thirty-five times
to reveal her body’s weaknesses
towards watermelon, shrimp, milk, Kentucky bluegrass,
hay, walnuts, chicken, turkey, sea bass, lobster, dust, mold, and cockroaches -
Her skin still burned and flared, cracked and red and dry and unforgiving,
I’ve watched the parade
of well-meaning people walking in and out of her life: smiling
pediatricians, puzzled dermatologists,
vehement relatives. No one is to blame.
I’ve watched her sneak
Oreos away from the pantry, stealing bites of childhood innocence;
for turtlenecks; being tormented by other children
the ragged appearance of her skin.
Watched my father drive three
hours to the only Costco that stocked unscented Keri Soothing Dry Skin Formula
and return home with thirty cases of three bottles each
by the way, also didn’t work).
And I’ve watched her grow up and out of her skin,
which still bears the scars and rough patches of struggles and treatments,
up and out of reticence, sensitivity, resentment, confusion, worthlessness.
Rising above the motley patchwork of voices to wholeness.
Author Note: Clara Luu was born and raised in San Jose, CA. She is currently a
sophomore at Stanford University, studying Human Biology and living an
exciting pre-med life. "Quilted" is drawn from a composite of
household dermatological experiences from her childhood. This piece written
for the "Becoming a Doctor" medical humanities seminar taught by
Professor Larry Zaroff. It exemplifies the key motifs motivating
Clara to pursue a career in medicine: the mutifaceted aspects of
wellness, the importance of culturally sensitive medicine, the strong
role of family in the healing process, and the mysteries of some medical
conditions that are the catalyst for exploration, discovery, and
James Channing Shaw, one of our C2S family, has just published a new book, “Room for Examination: True
Tales of a Disillusioned Dermatologist.” It chronicles his path from naïf to
dermatologist. It is wise, philosophical, honest, poignant, humorous,
engagingly written, never self-serving and riveting. Dr. Shaw is Division Head of Dermatology at the
Women's College Hospital, University of Toronto, Canada.
To Purchase: Room for Examination· File Size: 478
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