I have always been interested in definitions. What frequently comes to mind is what Aristotle said, “A definition is a phrase signifying a things essence.”
A Medical Humanist's Notes
I was recently re-reading an email exchange with Dr. Skip Durning, who at the time was director of Hospitalist services at North Adams Regional Hospital. He wrote to me following a presentation to hospital staff that included our video “Voices from the Lived World of Illness.” After the viewing, the discussion with attendees highlighted the challenges of healthcare communication, especially when someone is seriously ill.
It’s common practice for doctors to document a family history of medical problems. This can be useful information to diagnose presenting symptoms and to identify health issues to which we could be genetically predisposed. So, with this theme in mind, I’m sharing an excerpt from a short story titled “Michagas,” which I wrote many years ago. For those who are unfamiliar with the meaning of the word, it describes a certain ‘craziness’ that is indigenous to Jews.
You never know what you find when digging through old files. In one of many piles was a copy of a lecture presented at Brown Medical School in 1998 titled “Medical Humanism in Practice.” The authors were cancer patient, Pat Barr; psychologist, Dr. Bernard Bandman; oncologist Dr. Letha Mills; and me, at the time serving as a patient advocate at the cancer center in Bennington.
As patients, we often don’t know what questions to ask, especially when it comes to inquiring about a serious medical condition.
Somehow myself survived the Night
And entered with the day
Henceforth, I take my living place.
It is a “heart to heart.” It is not with me, but with him—him being someone with knowledge of the disease, with credentials and whom she trusts.
There was a daily calendar on the wall emblazed with the words: “Today is” but there were no pages left.
We have all lost loved ones. Although not forgotten, the departed can recede to the back of our minds unless prompted by a memory such as a photo, song, written note or countless other things personal to the relationship.
I was recently reading the transcript of the “Voices from the Lived World of Illness” video, which the Center for Communication in Medicine produced in 2003. The 4 patients featured in the video shared candid observations about their experiences. In previous blogs I’ve referenced some of their comments. Yet, upon re-reading their words, I am reminded that their perspectives are as relevant today as they were 18 years ago.
As readers of my blog already know, I am drawn to thinking about the space between uncertainty and hope. At this time of year, I often find myself revisiting “Stanzas Concerning an Ecstasy Experienced in High Contemplation” by St. John of the Cross, which moves me to thinking about the mysteries of life and what’s to come. I’d like to share his words with you.