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.
StoryCorps is an American non-profit organization whose mission is to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. StoryCorps was started in 2003 by radio producer David Isay.
StoryCorps is modeled—in spirit and in scope—after the efforts of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s, through which oral history interviews across the United States were recorded. Another inspiration for the organization was oral historian Studs Terkel, who cut the ribbon at the opening of StoryCorps’ first recording booth in Grand Central Terminal. To date, StoryCorps has recorded more than 45,000 interviews among more than 80,000 Americans in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and several American territories.
The house was old but had personality! The small space in front paved with red rectangular tiles, the arched doorway with red bougainvilleas growing in riotous profusion, the well by the side and the small garage filled with sand. White jasmine bushes wafted their heady scent into the night air filling the house with an intoxicating fragrance. The drawing room and the kitchen, the nerve centers of the house adjoined each other. My father used to always say that this arrangement ensured that the ladies of the house could keep an eye on the main entrance from the kitchen. The drawing room had wooden windows with colored glass panes. Dark blue, green, and violet panes tinted the entering light in rich colors. The roof had wooden rafters and the floor was a dark, warm, rich red. There was a wooden showcase encasing a beautiful image of Lord Krishna which used to dominate the room. In the modern era the LCD television has pride of place in most drawing rooms and sadly the same has occurred in my father’s ancestral home.
My grandmother was a remarkable woman. She was small, around five feet one; as she aged her spine gently curved dragging her closer to Mother Earth. She was always immaculately dressed in white and was perpetually busy with household matters. She was a matriculate under the old British system and used English precisely and succinctly. She had studied in Moyan Girls High School in Palakkad, Kerala during the 1920s and 30s and it was a strange quirk of fate that over sixty years later I appeared for the medical entrance exam successfully at the same school where my grandmother had studied.
Adjoining the drawing room was a store room, a place I used to dread as a child. Palakkad was still an agricultural town and we used to keep our pesticide spraying equipment there. The bright copper container, the long snaking tube and the wide spraying nozzle used to terrify me. I remember quickening my steps when passing nearby and turning my head to the other side trying my level best to avoid looking into the dark and dangerous room. Inside, the house was dark and cool like old houses everywhere. I had heard my grandmother describe her purchase of an old mud house in the 1940s and remodeling it to the present structure. In the center of the house was a room surrounded by verandas. The room had a large circular table and some shiny old trunks which my grandmother had bought back with her on her return from Malaysia. The room had a hinged trapdoor in the roof which opened to the dark attic.
I was both fascinated by and scared of the attic. It was dark, low and filled with soot. There was a musty odor. The attic was full of old ‘things’ which my grandmother had collected over the years. There was a rich and eclectic collection of books and odds and ends. The dark rooms had wooden almirahs with glass mirrors. These were painted a rich, chestnut brown. The doors in the house were thick and heavy requiring considerable expenditure of effort to open and close. The doors had wooden doorsteps and you had to high-step these while going from one room to another. I often forget about this impediment to progress and used to crash heavily against the doorsteps.
The ‘other side’ of the house was my favorite with two large rooms and a dining room and kitchen. The two bedrooms had wooden windows which opened on a small coconut grove. The high wooden beds were richly carved. I have always been fascinated by coconut trees which I subconsciously associate with Kerala, God’s own country. The green fronds gently swaying in the breeze, high above the ground are a sight for the Gods.
The dining room had three glass tiles in the roof through which sunlight slanted into the room. I have fond memories of hot afternoons when I used to enjoy fragrant, parboiled rice and rich, spicy fish curry seasoned with coconut. The meal was tasty but ‘hot’ and I used to get up from the dining table drenched in sweat! Palakkad is one of the hottest places in Kerala and the mercury used to rise above 40 degrees Celsius routinely during summer. The kitchen with its wood burning fire places was an endless source of fascination. The room was dimly lit with only two light bulbs and in those days Kerala used to suffer from chronic low voltage. The orange flickering flames used to project strange shadows on the grey walls.
Childhood was a time of wonder. We used to visit Kerala during the summer holidays. It was a long train journey and we used to pass through the burning heat of Andhra Pradesh en route. The Sun was red, the soil was red and barren and a hot wind used to blow turning the train compartment into a hot air oven! We used to reach Palakkad in the early hours of the morning and Kerala used to spread her welcoming mantle of green. My mother used to awaken me from a deep slumber and the magical land stretched on both sides as the train entered God’s own country. The monsoon used to arrive with a bang in early June. In those days the rains used to be heavier than today. There was thunder and lightning. The rain began with the crack of dawn and continued throughout the day and often during the night. The rain was heavy and accompanied by strong gusts of wind. The water dripping down from the roof used to form small puddles on the ground. I enjoyed scampering among the puddles much to the annoyance of my parents.
It was the age of wonder. I remember watching a series called ‘The Wonder Years’ on television. As I grew up, slowly the wonder started to disappear. The area also began to modernize. New large houses were built, terraced roofs began to replace tiles and the National Highway 47 was constructed passing right behind our house. The author Peter Matthiessen writes in his book ‘The Snow Leopard’ that as we grow up we begin to lose the sense of wonder with which we used to view the world when we were young. The child is one with the world around him and the sense of a separate ‘I’ has not yet formed. As we grow we retreat into defensive walls and crannies away from the grand stream of life. It is ironic that as we begin to take greater control of our life we lose our sense of wonder. We begin to resent this loss either consciously or subconsciously which is richly expressed in our art and culture. Writers, poets and painters have long grappled with it.
I am aware that my sense of wonder, of being one with the universe may never return. The sense of grief and loss is palpable. As an adult there are only brief and infrequent episodes when I can unite back with the universal Soul. These episodes are to be cherished and treasured!
Author: Dr P Ravi Shankar was born in Kerala and spend his childhood and teens in the megapolis of Mumbai, India. He was educated in medicine at Kerala, and Chandigarh and in medical education at Coimbatore in South India. He has always been fascinated by nature and mountains and after his post graduation journeyed to the lakeside city of Pokhara, Nepal in the foothills of the Annapurna Himalayas where he taught at the Manipal College of Medical Sciences. He started a voluntary medical humanities (MH) module at the institution. Later he shifted to the historic city of Lalitpur in the southern part of the Kathmandu valley where he conducted a MH module, Sparshanam for all undergraduate first year medical students at KIST Medical College. In addition to MH, small group learning and medical education
Dr Shankar is keenly interested in promoting rational use of medicines and has been closely associated with the Discipline of Social and Administrative Pharmacy at the Universiti Sains Malaysia at Penang, Malaysia where he is a honorary lecturer. In 2013, Dr Shankar journeyed to the Caribbean enamored by his friends’ description of pristine white sands, azure blue seas and warm sunshine. At present he is at the Xavier University School of Medicine in Aruba, Kingdom of the Netherlands where he is a Professor of Pharmacology and Chair of the Curriculum Committee. He has been facilitating a MH module for first semester medical students at the institution since February 2013. The module is conducted in small groups and uses case scenarios, paintings, role-plays and activities to explore different aspects of MH and has been well received by students. Email: Dr. P Ravi Shankar.
Steve Sobel is a practicing psychiatrist in northern Vermont. "A 500 Pound Amoeba" is a collection of 10 compelling vignettes of patients with psychiatric illnesses. These comprise depression, mania, OCD, body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality, generalized anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, acrophobia, psychotic depression, and dementia. The stories are told with great sensitivity. Each one is divided into two parts. The first describing the illness as appreciated from the patient’s vantage point and the second explains the clinician’s approach and touches on the doctor-patient relationship.
We have all known patients like the composites Dr. Sobel eloquently conveys. As physicians, we have all had patients like these. Sobel’s narrative style is easy to read and follow. These tales afford profound insights into the illnesses covered.
This slender volume of less than 130 pages will make compelling reading for physicians, mental health professionals, trainees, medical students and all others with an interest in mental health. Sobel has a humble, gentle, compassionate writing style and the tales are memorable. The narrative form employed also serves as a template for the presentation of similar patients. Reading "A 500 Pound Amoeba" one recalls Oliver Sacks' "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" but I found Sobel's book less didacticand more humane.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (born 1977) is a Nigerian writer. She is Igbo. She has been called "the
most prominent" of a "procession of critically acclaimed young
anglophone authors that is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers
to African literature".
Her Ted Talk about the importance of stories is powerfully
compelling and humbling.
The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with
stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They
make one story become the only story.
If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about
Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of
beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals and incomprehensible people, fighting
senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and
waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner.
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used
to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to
humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also
repair that broken dignity.
Show a people as one thing — as only one thing — over and
over again, and that is what they become.
Daryl Potyk, a physician in the state of Washington, shares a cautinary tale with us. His essay, "In Search of the Story," is important for patients and care-givers alike. As physicians get busier, as care gets more fragmented between primary care doctors, PAs, NPs, hospitalists, ER docs, specialists and sub-specialists, the person as patient often becomes an invisable man. Dr. Potyk's insight is essential.
"How could we have been taking care of Mr. Jones for as long as we had without knowing him? We knew his blood counts, we knew about his kidneys and his liver, we had stuck needles into his abdomen to obtain fluid samples; we knew a lot about him. We focused on his medical problems, treated him, took care of him, all without ever knowing him." Download Potyk In Search of the Story
Author Bio: Daryl Potyk, a board certified in Iinternist and geriatrician, has been teaching at the Internal Medicine Residency in Spokane, WA since 1994. He lives in Spokane, WA with his wife and three children. Email: DKP.
Lisa O'Brien, of Williamstown, alerted us to an NPR piece which reports on how getting people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia to tell stories can be therapeutic.
"Storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of communication — it's how we learn about the world. It turns out that for people with dementia, storytelling can be therapeutic. It gives people who don't communicate well a chance to communicate. And you don't need any training to run a session."
Betty Z. was 21 in 1937 when she started working at her Uncle's mecial office in the Bronx. Herein, she relates some memories.
Pelham Pkwy Station
In 1937, when I was 21, I took a job in my uncle's office. Jack Levine was a G.P. in the Bronx. I was taking a night course to become a medical technician at the Mandl School in Manhattan and worked during the day. The office occupied the first floor of my grandmother's house. The Pelham Parkway elevated subway station was on the corner. For more Download Betty 1937
Betty and the Young Doctor, Circa 1941
Betty Z. today
"Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’ We are not now that strength which in old days Mov’d earth and heaven, that which we are, we are: One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will..." Tennyson's Ulysses
Author Bio: Betty Z. lives six miles from the Pelham Parkway station. She has had a life full of many adventures. At 95, this is her first publication. It’s never too late to pen one’s recollections. We hope to receive more of her wisdom.
Tamar Hoffmann, a holistic internist in Honolulu, Hawaii graces us with the story of her family's escape from Nazi Germany. It is a moving tale of an ordinary family in extraordinary times.
"My father was was born in December 1921, the first son of a young orthodox Jewish couple in Kassel, Germany. He had a blissful childhood, living with his parents, two younger siblings and paternal grandparents in a spacious apartment on Train Station Street (Bahnhoff Strasse).
The kids went to a Hebrew school. My great-grandfather taught them Hebrew even before they started school so they could read and recite the prayers. After school they studied and played music, which had a very important role in their lives..." You will find Tamar's story captivating and moving: Download My Father's Story