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Letter from the Editors
As the contributors to our new issue show in their profoundly moving work, we are continually confronted with new challenges and obstacles, both in our professional and personal lives. These challenging experiences may at times excite us and at other times many evoke fear or anxiety when we are uncertain of how we will respond.
Language is an essential part of these experiences: we search for the words to describe what we are feeling; we attempt to articulate our authentic selves in hopes we will be understood and acknowledged. When participating as the recipient of another speaker’s narrative, we listen to the language they use and try to decipher what is being shared, to make meaning of the phrases and sentences in a way that enables us to relate to their experience and find a reference from which to enter their perspective.
In this issue of Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, many of the works explore the importance of language and the role of communication as essential in our interpersonal encounters. The basis of these encounters may be to seek medical care, to provide competent service delivery, to establish a safe space where care can be received, to demonstrate empathy for a patient’s suffering or to relay to an ailing family member that their needs are being prioritized. The language is not exclusively communicated verbally: there is a language of the diagnostician just as there is a language of the care provider and these two sets of terminology may not always speak easily to one another. In Field Notes, "Why Don’t They Just Call It That?," Pratyusha Yalamanchi deftly explores the tension between what is said and what is understood when different meanings are assigned to the same words. The actions of the participants in a space can speak just as loudly as the environment in which the actions take place. Andrea Hansell writes in "Therapy Space" about her concern that the setting used to speak to patients’ families may convey messages of value or lack of importance for the patient’s privacy or a judgment about the mental healthcare professional’s abilities to assist them.
Visually we are also exposed to messages that call for our interpretation. In Helen Harrison’s Studio Art piece, "Learning/Unlearning," (right) the manipulation of medical imagery encourages the viewer to consider the labels “sick” and “well,” “health” and “illness,” asking our eyes to discern what words the scans are trying to say. These distinctions in our efforts to communicate do not have to be seen solely as limitations. As Esther Lee shares in her Field Notes piece, "Migrations": “Language and culture may be an obstacle, but not a barrier to connection.” Challenging moments where words fail us may in fact provide us an opportunity to expand our vocabulary and find new means of communicating effectively.
As editors, we are constantly inspired by our contributors and the insight they bring to the medical humanities—and inspired by the way the works in Intima speak to each other. Case in point: an academic paper like Saljooq Asif's "Don't be a Warrior. Be a Doctor: Healing and Love after Wartime Trauma" connects to Wendy French's poem, "There is a Dreadful Hell Within Me," which reflects back to WWI British war poet, Ivor Gurney. We feel humbled by this serendipitous and meaningful connection and the meaning both bring, in very different ways, to our understanding of the effects of war specifically and narrative medicine in general.
We appreciate your continued support of our efforts to highlight the many voices involved in our experiences of wellness, illness, life and loss. Through the brave, raw and intimate writings in our Spring 2016 issue we hope to facilitate more connections between the perspectives in healthcare that are not always able to speak effectively to one another. Most importantly, as we explore the relevance of messaging and communication, we invite you to be open to “hear” and “see” things differently than you may have in the past. In the variety of experiences we present and the diversity of words we may use to describe them, there is one word we hope you will agree encapsulates the act of writing, sharing and reading these works —powerful.
—Editor and co-founder Mario de la Cruz for the Editors of the Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine