As patients, we often don’t know what questions to ask, especially when it comes to inquiring about a serious medical condition.
A Medical Humanist's Notes
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.
I recently found myself drawn to revisiting our 2003 video “Voices from the Lived World of Illness.” I watched four courageous people express honest and heartfelt accounts of their experiences as patients facing advanced cancer. What they said resonates with me to this day. It’s as if their words are seared into my memory.
I’ve been finding myself digging around in stacks of archival materials, writings begun but left for another day and, to my surprise, work completed long ago. One of the unfinished pieces was based upon interviews with cancer patients about the role of religion and spirituality in their lives, especially as they faced an uncertain future.
Over the years I’ve often referenced the Writing Is Good Medicine® program that I created while a medical humanist at Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center. Whether in essays for this blog or presentations at medical conferences, I would use examples of patient’s writings to emphasize what may have been untold thoughts and feelings, moving the spotlight from illness to the person.
As I’m getting older, I think about what has passed, passing and to come. I am catapulted back in time to my tenure as medical humanist at Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center (2002-2005). What comes to mind is the celebratory ritual upon the completion of each patient’s treatment, which was an array of balloons and bouquet of flowers. It was a lovely gesture that most patients embraced with the belief they were cured. And many were—but there were no guarantees.