Honoring the Messengers of Grief: Thinking deeply about what haunts us by poet and nurse practitioner Katherine Seluja, ARNP

I’m sorry to admit that during my own healthcare training, I was taught to carefully guard my feelings, to remain composed and “professional.” The thought of hugging a patient was considered too personal, too involved. Now, decades into my career, I have most definitely put that advice aside.

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Thinking about Love, Death and Suicide by Andrea Rosenhaft

When I attempted suicide last year, in March of 2014, I didn’t write a suicide note even though I am a writer. Instead, after I took the overdose, I stumbled back to my bedroom, collapsed into a tangle of blankets and sheets and sobbed as I murmured goodbyes to my cat, Zoe. I closed my eyes and stroked her soft fur with one hand as I waited patiently to die.

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On Bodies: The Transformative Power of Nature by poet Jesse Holth

There is something very special about the poem “Breast Unit” by Konstantina Georganta, published in the Spring 2014 issue of Intima. This poem examines nature, and the human experience, through the lens of undefined moments. It has an almost scrap-like quality, with pieces embedded and skillfully woven throughout the narrative. In a way, it’s the opposite to my poem “Anatomy in Nature”published in the Spring 2018 issue of Intima. These poems are like two sides of a single coin. While mine works to pull the inside out, finding reflections of the human body, its inner workings and organs, in plants and nature imagery, Georganta’s work pulls the outside in – relating nature to us by anthropomorphizing, humanizing.

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Swimming Alone: Thoughts on What It’s Like Being a Medical Student Thrown Into the Proverbial Deep End of the Hospital Wards by Thomas J. Doyle, MD

 Thomas J. Doyle MD is an internist who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. His Field Notes essay " To Pronounce " appeared in the Spring 2018  Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

Thomas J. Doyle MD is an internist who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. His Field Notes essay "To Pronounce" appeared in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

I can’t recall the first time I performed a death pronouncement. I’m sure I was taught how to diagnose death, but I can’t summon to mind much in the way of specifics. My recollections are vague, often from nights on call as a student or intern tagging along with senior residents as they performed death pronouncements on the wards.

On the other hand I can immediately summon to mind many other experiences from the pressure cooker of medical training. I can visualize the frothy trachea of an enormous man in respiratory failure whom I successfully intubated during a rotation in the ICU. I still cringe recalling ribs cracking under my palms as I performed CPR on a frail elderly man. I pushed rapidly on his sternum and recoiled internally even as I knew my technique was correct, recalling an attending’s advice that “sometimes you need to break some ribs for a good cardiopulmonary massage.”

I feel a personal sense of loss that I didn’t write down the emotional impact of my early experiences in learning to diagnose death. My essay “To Pronounce” is an attempt to make up for that loss.

And it is with that sense of loss in mind that I applaud William Fyfe for his essay “No Time For Tears Today,” published in the Fall 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine under ‘Field Notes.’ In concise, immediate, elegant prose, he captures the essence of what it’s like to be a medical student thrown into the proverbial deep end of the hospital wards. Many of Fyfe’s words resonate with my memories of training: “chaos,” “imposter,” “sheepish,” “drained,” “ashamed,” “unexpected.”

In particular, his essay captures an unspoken lesson students are expected to absorb while keeping their heads above water – that in medicine we are expected to swim because – well, because that’s just what we have to do.

Fyfe’s prose, however, hints at the emotional isolation that can creep into our lives in medicine very early on, and locates the reader squarely in the proverbial moment when we may momentarily “get it together” to confidently function with humanity.

I like to think that Fyfe’s title is intended to convey a touch of irony because, after all, a decent amount of the reason there are so many among us who become numb or burned out is because we can’t, or don’t, let ourselves have time for tears at least once in a while.


Thomas J. Doyle MD is an internist who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. He graduated from The Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University in 2003 and completed training in internal medicine at Rhode Island Hospital. He practices inpatient hospital medicine at Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, MA. His Field Notes essay "To Pronounce" appeared in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

A Death Is Not Closure: How Poems Can Help Bring Clarity to Our Loss by Alida Rol

 Alida Rol practiced as an OBGYN physician for many years. She holds an MFA in writing from Pacific University. Her poem " After A Year in Hospitals"  appears in the Spring 2018  Intima.

Alida Rol practiced as an OBGYN physician for many years. She holds an MFA in writing from Pacific University. Her poem "After A Year in Hospitals" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.

In her poem, “Writing Elegies Like Robert Hass”(Fall 2015 Intima), Jenny Qi wrestles eloquently with the death of her mother. She hooked me with the title, and she does American poet Robert Hass, who served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997, proud. This is not a sugarcoated remembrance but a wry and thoughtful, grateful and pained elegy. I assume the speaker is Qi herself.

She layers nuanced and conflicted emotions, recalling her mother’s bad habits, like scratching “bug bites until they bled,” being “petulant and stubborn,” or driving “too fast,” but also the traits that made her so endearing: She was “so greedy for living, so hasty with love.” Qi wants to remember her mother’s generous and genuine qualities, but then in the chilling final stanza recounts the burden she still carries over how her mother died. The poem transitions seamlessly between all the unsorted, colliding feelings, before it leaves us with a closing heartbreak.

For years, I tried to write poems about my brother’s death. Over time I found the memories slipped away yet, paradoxically, a clearer picture of him began to emerge. I wrote about discovering who he was in the poem, “After A Year in Hospitals,” aware that we, the living, may perhaps be reinventing the persons who can no longer speak for themselves. Although, in this poem, I did not include my own misgivings over the way my brother died, I relate very strongly to the way Qi vividly describes her torment over her mother’s last moments.

Description alone cannot do her poem justice. It needs to be read in its entirety to experience the impact. Reading Qi’s poem reminds me that poetry has the power to evoke, through concrete images and masterfully chosen words, an empathic emotional state.


Alida Rol practiced as an OBGYN physician for many years. She holds an MFA in writing from Pacific University. Her poems and essays have won several awards and have appeared in Rhino, Passager, The Examined Life, Nasty Women Poets Anthology, and Hektoen International, among others. She lives in Eugene, Oregon. Her poem, "After a Year in Hospitals" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.

 

 

How We Might Use a ‘Script’ in Navigating a Diagnosis of Breast Cancer by Lori Duin Kelly

   Lori Duin Kelly was the founder and longtime chair of the Body and Physical Culture area of the Popular Culture Association. Her paper      "The Scar Project: Visual Language for Telling the Story of Breast Cancer in Women"      appeared in the Spring 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

Lori Duin Kelly was the founder and longtime chair of the Body and Physical Culture area of the Popular Culture Association. Her paper "The Scar Project: Visual Language for Telling the Story of Breast Cancer in Women" appeared in the Spring 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

In my article "The Scar Project: Visual Language for Telling the Story of Breast Cancer in Women" in the 2017 Spring issue of Intima, I was interested in exploring the notion of scripts women use to navigate a diagnosis of breast cancer, and the extent to which these scripts co-opt and direct a patient's thoughts about that medical experience. In particular, I was contrasting the different approaches employed by Susan Komen's "pink culture" with the stark black and white images of post mastectomy patients in David Jay's S.C.A.R. project.

Joy Liu's short story, "Triumphant," in that same issue adds to that notion of scripts and the role they play in medicine, only here the script is one written by a young researcher who has just completed a research fellowship, and feeling empowered by that experience, is confident in her ability to "blast [the cancer of her patient] into oblivion."

Part of the confidence the young physician is feeling is a consequence of another script, that generated by the company who produced a new drug with great promise in fighting renal cancer. That script of the drug company becomes easily incorporated into the script that directs the physician's performance with her patient, in large part because that script is consistent with the narrative the physician wishes to tell.

The patient, meanwhile, has his own script, and a major conflict in the story arises when these scripts come into conflict. The patient's script, which discloses that the medication causes memory lapses, crippling back pain, as well as acne across his whole body, elicits --perhaps requires-- a response from the physician that having a lot of symptoms "is a sign that the medication is probably working." Such optimism becomes harder to sustain when the next CAT scan appears. The diminished size of some lesions but the generation of new ones show results that are equivocal at best, and certainly not consistent with physician's scripted outcome for this patient, the "applause from my auditoriums of admirers," "the living testament to my mastery of renal cell carcinoma."

In the course of righting her own disappointment, the physician fails to pick up on the story that is playing out in the patient's life. His statement about his unwillingness to "throw away what's left on someone else's rainbow," his tears when his girlfriend leaves him and he is left alone with no one to settle his estate once he dies, are strong lines in the dialogue of his script, but the researcher is so embedded within her own narrative, so caught up in her own frustration over the results of the trial, that she is unable to respond, except to offer another script, one that involves his being transitioned to traditional therapy. Only after her patient takes his life do his words begin to resonate with the deep understanding of how the script of his cancer read for him.

The power of scripts, like diagnosis, is that they give shape to the chaos that is illness. They offer a direction to go, actions to take. The danger of scripts is that their power in directing the narrative can become so dominant that they fail to admit into their account competing story lines that also insist on playing themselves out. "Triumphant" ends on a positive note: the physician produces a paper that explores depression and suicide in cancer patients. But the caveat that "Soft studies don't publish well" suggests an awareness of the complex structures that undergird all narratives, and how the dissemination of some scripts sometimes comes at the peril of the omission of others, equally important and compelling.


Lori Duin Kelly was the founder and longtime chair of the Body and Physical Culture area of the Popular Culture Association. Now retired from fulltime teaching at Carroll University, Professor Kelly continues to publish work exploring the notion of how narratives become constructed around medical events and how and why the different voices within those conversations become subordinate or ascendant in constructing medical understandings. Her work has appeared recently in Sage Open and Journal of Medical Humanities.

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Poetry and String Theory: How Each Brings the Macro and Micro Together to Heal by Ingrid Andersson

 Ingrid Andersson is a full-time midwife and poet in Madison, WI. She is completing her first collection of poetry, entitled  Down the Female Ages . Her poem "At The Green Burial Informational Luncheon" appeared in the Spring 2018  Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

Ingrid Andersson is a full-time midwife and poet in Madison, WI. She is completing her first collection of poetry, entitled Down the Female Ages. Her poem "At The Green Burial Informational Luncheon" appeared in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

The Irish poet Eamon Grennan said, “I think poets are string theorists in some ways. They are trying to bring the macro and the micro constantly into a single focus.”

Few experiences focus human life and practice more, than advanced illness or the impending death of a family member. Susan Sample's poem "Indigo" (Intima, Spring 2014) succeeds in capturing the weight and span of such an experience. 

It begins in water, on a raft, with a rowed backstroke, the strong pull in the poet's chest alone beneath pale clouds and looming cliffs, cut through with dark swaths / of coal. Then, it moves to the marbled linoleum undercurrent of a hospital floor, worn through / on the threshold of patient rooms, and a dark lung mass on the X-ray of the poet's friend, the iced absence of breast another swath. Onward, in the less silent chemo suite, we're surrounded by everyday tragedies of pic lines, Hickmans and ports, and the poet's father's slow drip, as it clicks like an aperture set for a long exposure: / one sleeve of his favorite fleece rolled up. The cobalt blue of his sleeve colors the poem, as does the weighted blue of the bowl / he ate cereal from as a boy that I found on the shelf / of his apartment this morning.

Amidst the poem's heaviness, a thread runs through it like a hope, pulling and holding together body and earth, deep grief and sunlight, the particular and the universal. It runs dark and inexorable, like water, like veins through rock, like an intravenous line into a loved one. But it also runs like the sky blue yarn joining a hundred tiny squares in a quilt that a nurse pulls for the poet's father from a woven basket.

Like Susan Sample, I too write poems from life looking into the uncharted fathoms of aging parents. How do we, who strive enough every day to help strangers through pain, disintegration and dying, attend to our own ill and aging without drowning, without growing dangerously benumbed or isolated?

Poetry answers this question in its revelation of patterns, of countless connecting threads, in its refusal to disregard the details of every day and its insistence on homing them in whole people, families, culture and nature. Poetry is a healing practice, because it is a homing practice. My poem "At the Green Burial Informational Luncheon" (Intima, Spring 2018) aims to bring home the death of my mother.


Ingrid Andersson is a full-time midwife and poet in Madison, WI. She is completing her first collection of poetry, entitled, Down the Female Ages. Her writing has appeared in The Progressive magazine, About Place journal, Midwest Review and Wisconsin Poets' Calendar. Her poem "At the Green Burial Informational Luncheon" appeared in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

Be Patient, Listen to your Patient: A Reflection on the Difficulties of Describing a Disease by Suzanne Edison

   Suzanne Edison MA, MFA, writes most often about the intersection of illness, healing, medicine and art. She has a child living with Juvenile Myositis. Her chapbook, The Moth Eaten World, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her poem " The Body Lives Its Undoing " appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.

Suzanne Edison MA, MFA, writes most often about the intersection of illness, healing, medicine and art. She has a child living with Juvenile Myositis. Her chapbook, The Moth Eaten World, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her poem "The Body Lives Its Undoing" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.

In Rachel Betesh’s poem “Admission Assessment” that appeared in the Fall 2014 Intima, the doctor observes a patient, finding the words to describe both his condition and her understanding of his experiences. She listens well, using precise language. Her first observation is visual, she sees his posture, but almost immediately that awareness is paired with hearing his breathing. She says:

 so measured these breaths break: shallow

            like rainwater with nowhere to settle:

            he parcels air; he can’t give it away.

 

Breath as a parcel, a package that can’t be given away. Breath is precious and difficult simultaneously. As a reader I am pulled into a field of empathy; the doctor trying to understand her experience of the man. She listens acutely to his “ragged song of breathing.” and “the natural sweetness of the body / reduced to laboring: an immeasurable effort,…”

The doctor listens to what is being said as well as what is not being said. She hears his breathing and his words. He “cradles” his hand, the size of a grapefruit, and says, “now it’s everyplace, / and the air seeps and sings out, out without measure.”

She thinks his words are the most salient reason for hospitalization and should be in her assessment: “now it’s everyplace.”

The doctor is aware that not everything can be seen, that this hand is the most visible aspect of his cancer; but she knows it is in his kidneys as well.

I am reminded of William Osler’s words of wisdom to his medical students at Johns Hopkins, “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.”

What can’t be seen is often true in autoimmune diseases as well. Listening to a patient describe the experience of his or her body might help a doctor find a diagnosis, but not always.  My poem, “The Body Lives Its Undoing” (Spring 2018), speaks to this experience. Initially I use the words koyaanisqatsi and uggianaqtu from Native people’s languages that speak directly to a “life out of balance,” to the body “behaving strangely.” Then, I try to enact the feelings of the patient through the sounds of words: cawing, cacophony, clattering; hard ‘c’ sounds that cut, which lead to the image of chaos.

How to let others know the internal feeling of an autoimmune disease.  Not only the sounds of feelings, but in images such as “cascading through flames / joints and muscles dragging like a loose muffler on asphalt” that try to portray the feelings of exhaustion and inflammation that come with most autoimmune diseases.

The patient in my poem wants to find balance, knows she is “listing” in a “turbulent sea” with disease, but wants to navigate it with “…my hand      on the tiller.”

Listening with eyes, ears and an open heart and mind is what most patients want and need, even if there is no definitive diagnosis, treatment or cure. Hearing their words and giving attention creates empathy, which goes a long way towards healing and helps the patient deal with the ups and downs of a disease.


Suzanne Edison MA, MFA, writes most often about the intersection of illness, healing, medicine and art. She has a child living with Juvenile Myositis. Her chapbook, The Moth Eaten World, was published by Finishing Line Press. She has been awarded grants from Artist Trust; Seattle City Artists, and 4Culture of King County, Seattle. Poems are forthcoming in About Place Journal; Other poetry can be found in: JAMA; SWWIM; What Rough Beast; Bombay Gin; The Naugatuck River Review; The Ekphrastic Review; and in several anthologies including The Healing Art of Writing, Volume One. She is a board member of the Cure JM Foundation and teaches writing workshops at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Richard Hugo House in Seattle. www.seedison.com. Her poem "The Body Lives Its Undoing" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.

 

We Need More Stories From Young Patients by Kelley Yuan

   Kelley Yuan will begin her studies at Sidney Kimmel Medical College in 2018 as part of the Penn State/SKMC combined BS/MD program. Her paper entitled " Stories from Kids: The Unheard Voices of Pediatric Patients " appears in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

Kelley Yuan will begin her studies at Sidney Kimmel Medical College in 2018 as part of the Penn State/SKMC combined BS/MD program. Her paper entitled "Stories from Kids: The Unheard Voices of Pediatric Patients" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

Thousands upon thousands of patient narratives. Remember the one from the eleven year old? Me neither.

We need more stories from young patients. They experience illness and emotions just as exquisitely as adults, if not more so. From their accounts we stand to learn a great deal about pain, hope and resilience. My piece, Stories from Kids: The Unheard Voices of Pediatric Patients, represents a small fraction of the many younger voices that narrative medicine has overlooked.

A great example of seeking youth voices is Ali Grzywna’s work, Anorexia Narratives: Stories of Illness & Healing. The accounts she gathered from anorexic teens and adults reveal how anorexia gave them a sense of control, a coping mechanism for other stressors, or a form of identity. Notably, she featured teen voices and the teen experience.

Based on this understanding of the underlying thought processes, therapy has evolved to treat anorexia. Instead of casting off the anorexic identity, patients learn to reshape the narrative to change their behavior—learning to select the healthy voice over the anorexic voice, instead of muting the anorexic voice altogether. Teen stories spurred progress.

Our current understanding of how children and adolescents interpret illness is dreadfully narrow, especially given the recent rise in juvenile autoimmune diseases and adolescent mental health issues. Without the youth perspective, our search for better treatments remains incomplete. The more we seek their stories, the more we can uncover to help these young minds and bodies heal.


Kelley Yuan will begin her studies at Sidney Kimmel Medical College in 2018 as part of the Penn State/SKMC combined BS/MD program. She studies illustration and fences épée when she should be revising for exams. Her work seeks to capture the rare, light-hearted moments in a field filled with pain, fear, and tough decisions. Her paper entitled "Stories from Kids: The Unheard Voices of Pediatric Patients" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

I Lost a Patient Last Week by Carolyn Welch

   Carolyn Welch worked for many years as a pediatric intensive care nurse and currently works as a family nurse practitioner.  She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars.  Her poetry collection, The Garden of Fragile Being, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.  Her poem  "Relapse " is in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

Carolyn Welch worked for many years as a pediatric intensive care nurse and currently works as a family nurse practitioner.  She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars.  Her poetry collection, The Garden of Fragile Being, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.  Her poem "Relapse" is in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

I lost a patient last week. This is not unexpected in the world of family practice. I have lost countless patients.  During most of my career in pediatric intensive care, however, I lost them dramatically. They departed with fight and drama, chest compressions and epinephrine, and intensity. This patient left quietly, succumbing to congestive heart failure.  He came in every week or two with waterlogged ankles and lungs when he forgot to take his meds.  He missed his wife. He lingered to talk. His going was like the tide shifting in Ron Lands' poem “Listen to the Ocean.” Some other shore was calling him.

There are moments when we notice the breath is like the ocean rising and falling or like Lands' “moonlight floating on the water.” My own daughter’s battle with schizophrenia is teaching me the tending of good days, the collecting of moments.

Last summer, as I watered the garden, a hummingbird flew close, dipped in and out of the spray—his thirst and my offering meeting there on a hot uneventful day in July. Diana calls on good days between relapses. Lands' patient or father or mother labors to breathe until reminded of the light and the water.  Waves bring what they have and take what they find.  Lands' voice eases his listener from one moment to the next.

My patient’s death leaves a gap in the schedule, an unfilled prescription, a message from his son. And we go on. This smallness of death is part of its tragedy to those of us working close to it, but also when it visits our lives. The room get cleaned, the bills arrive, the dogs whimper for their supper.  Some of us write poems in an effort to translate our experience and to tend to these moments of being.


Carolyn Welch worked for many years as a pediatric intensive care nurse and currently works as a family nurse practitioner.  She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars.  Carolyn’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, Sundog, Tar River Poetry, Conduit, Connecticut River Review, High Desert Journal, The Southeast Review, Zone 3, The Minnesota Review, American Journal of Nursing and other literary journals. Her poetry collection, The Garden of Fragile Being, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.  Her poem "Relapse" is in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

 

 

Life and Death in the ER: What's Real, What's Fiction? by Carol Scott Connor

   Carol Scott-Conner is Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Her story  "After Midnight"  is homage to the night shift, when everything extraneous seems to fade away and only life and death remain.

Carol Scott-Conner is Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Her story "After Midnight" is homage to the night shift, when everything extraneous seems to fade away and only life and death remain.

Readers of my piece "After Midnight" often ask me, “What happened to the cop?”

I answer, “It’s fiction. There never was any cop.” But the truth is more complex than that.

There were patients very similar to this during my medical school and residency years. From those memories I can say with confidence that although the piece ends with the cop about to arrive, alive, in the Recovery room, he almost certainly would not have survived to leave the hospital. As subsequent decades passed, we became more facile in resuscitation, better attuned to the factors that predict a successful outcome. In that time, at that place, we simply did everything we could to fight for life.

As you may have guessed, the piece is firmly rooted in my own experience as a wide-eyed medical student. Originally destined for a career in the cerebral specialty of cardiology, I became a convert to surgery after a night when the team (at least temporarily) cheated death and everything seemed possible. When the swoosh of the dark wings of death could be heard, and we seemed to be able to beat that old carrion-bird back into the darkness. And the night ended with a trip across the roof to start rounds.

A far more realistic and nuanced view is presented by Anna Belc in “Getting to Know Dying.” She writes of the early recognition of imminent death in those who are in the zone of criticality. She speaks of anticipating death so as to better be able to prevent it – for example, for a patient at risk of bleeding out, start two large-bore IV’s.

She also speaks of the difficulty preparing the survivors, the family. And, implicit in all of this, is the personal toll on the healthcare team. Those who deliberately choose to work in the zone where life and death intersect are, indeed, very special people.


Carol Scott-Conner is Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. She writes memoir in the form of fiction, exploring the world of women in surgery. Her stories have been published in multiple literary journals ranging from “The Healing Muse” through “North Dakota Quarterly,” and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A collection of her short stories was published as “A Few Small Moments.” She is past editor-in-chief of “The Examined Life Journal: A Literary Journal of the Carver College of Medicine” and currently serves as its fiction editor. "After Midnight" is homage to the night shift, when everything extraneous seems to fade away and only life and death remain.

Life and Death in the ER: What's Real and What's Fiction? by Carol EH Scott-Conner MD PhD

 Carol Scott-Conner is Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Her story  "After Midnight"  pays homage to the night shift, when everything extraneous seems to fade away and only life and death remain.

Carol Scott-Conner is Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. Her story "After Midnight" pays homage to the night shift, when everything extraneous seems to fade away and only life and death remain.

Readers of my piece "After Midnight" often ask me, “What happened to the cop?”

I answer, “It’s fiction. There never was any cop.” But the truth is more complex than that.

There were patients very similar to this during my medical school and residency years. From those memories I can say with confidence that although the piece ends with the cop about to arrive, alive, in the Recovery room, he almost certainly would not have survived to leave the hospital. As subsequent decades passed, we became more facile in resuscitation, better attuned to the factors that predict a successful outcome. In that time, at that place, we simply did everything we could to fight for life.

As you may have guessed, the piece is firmly rooted in my own experience as a wide-eyed medical student. Originally destined for a career in the cerebral specialty of cardiology, I became a convert to surgery after a night when the team (at least temporarily) cheated death and everything seemed possible. When the swoosh of the dark wings of death could be heard, and we seemed to be able to beat that old carrion-bird back into the darkness. And the night ended with a trip across the roof to start rounds.

A far more realistic and nuanced view is presented by Anna Belc in “Getting to Know Dying.” She writes of the early recognition of imminent death in those who are in the zone of criticality. She speaks of anticipating death so as to better be able to prevent it – for example, for a patient at risk of bleeding out, start two large-bore IV’s.

She also speaks of the difficulty preparing the survivors, the family. And, implicit in all of this, is the personal toll on the healthcare team. Those who deliberately choose to work in the zone where life and death intersect are, indeed, very special people.


Carol Scott-Conner is Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. She writes memoir in the form of fiction, exploring the world of women in surgery. Her stories have been published in multiple literary journals ranging from “The Healing Muse” through “North Dakota Quarterly,” and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A collection of her short stories was published as “A Few Small Moments.” She is past editor-in-chief of “The Examined Life Journal: A Literary Journal of the Carver College of Medicine” and currently serves as its fiction editor. "After Midnight" is homage to the night shift, when everything extraneous seems to fade away and only life and death remain.

A Reflection on Hands—in Art, in Medicine by Pamela Hart

  Pamela Hart is writer in residence at the Katonah Museum of Art where she teaches and manages the Museum’s Thinking Through the Arts program. Her poem " Dorothy's Hands"  is in the Spring 2018  Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

Pamela Hart is writer in residence at the Katonah Museum of Art where she teaches and manages the Museum’s Thinking Through the Arts program. Her poem "Dorothy's Hands" is in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

Field Notes on Hands: A Reflection by the writer of the poem "Dorothy's Hands" on Meagan Wu’s artwork titled "The Surgical Stage" in the Fall 2017 Intima

Hands are among the most expressive parts of the body, connected as they are with gestures of tenderness and violence. They caress and slap. They hold instruments, surgical or musical. They cradle weapons. Hands signal affection, distrust, anger.

They are conduits for ideas traveling from brain to language. They articulate the gap between thought and word. Before speech, hands gave shape to hunger and fear. They warn of danger. Handprints on cave walls are signatures or ancient algorithms linking past to future.

Hands mend wounds. Translucent hands hover like birds over an unseen patient, light radiating from the center of the image, while all the hands weave back and forth stitching skin to skin.

Heart line, head line, relationship line. Hands can be read like poems. Decipher the line on a palm to understand your life. What about memory lines. I think of my father’s hands struggling to attach dry fly to tippet. I remember stroking my mother’s veiny hands in the hospital as she died. My hands have cupped fireflies and embraced cigarettes. They plunged into the Sound on summer nights, pushing into dark water as plankton streamed tendrils of light through my fingers.

Hands give and take. I am here, say the hands. Look and listen.


Pamela Hart is writer in residence at the Katonah Museum of Art where she teaches and manages the Museum’s Thinking Through the Arts program. Rowan Ricardo Phillips selected her book, Mothers Over Nangarhar, for the 2017 Kathryn A. Morton Prize; it will be published in 2019 by Sarabande Books. She was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship. She received the Brian Turner Literary Arts prize and her poems have been published in the Southern Humanities Review, Bellevue Literary Review and elsewhere. Toadlily Press published her chapbook, The End of the Body. She is poetry editor for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and for As You Were: The Military Review. Her poem "Dorothy's Hands" is in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

What Color is Your Stethoscope? A Reflection on How Art and Colors Affect Us as Caregivers by Alice Wang

 Alice Wang is a third-year undergraduate student at Stanford University studying Materials Science & Engineering. She is interested in the importance of interpersonal narratives in both art and medicine, and seeks to better understand the healing potential of narrative medicine. Her artwork " Beyond Blue " appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.

Alice Wang is a third-year undergraduate student at Stanford University studying Materials Science & Engineering. She is interested in the importance of interpersonal narratives in both art and medicine, and seeks to better understand the healing potential of narrative medicine. Her artwork "Beyond Blue" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.

In her Field Notes essay “The Lady in Pink” (Spring 2013 Intima), Anne-Laure Talbot writes of a formative patient encounter she had as a medical student. She meets a delightful elderly woman dressed in a bright pink sweater, who carries with her a known diagnosis of dementia.

Talbot’s preconceptions of dementia are challenged by this woman’s personable and pleasant demeanor, by her affectionate and smiling engagement. The writer ends with a moving statement on how this encounter impacted her understanding of illness as a caregiver and empathetic individual.

This reflective essay has inspired me to think more deeply about the various facets of the illness experience, from the patient’s clinical presentation to the clinician’s worldview and biases.

Color blends the boundaries between art and medicine, serving as a fundamental element of both practices. The juxtaposition of the patient’s pink sweater with Talbot’s white coat in “The Lady in Pink” creates a vivid image that captures the dynamic of the characters and the relationship between the two. My studio art piece “Beyond Blue” (Spring 2018 Intima) similarly reflects on the ways color shapes health narratives, though we may not consciously recognize them. Inspired by Joan Didion’s memoir Blue Nights and a patient I met in clinic, this drawing seeks to tell a story through the emotional, individual, and cultural meaning embodied in color and aesthetic. I attribute my sensitivity to color to my training as an artist, just one way medical humanities have helped me become a careful and connected observer of others.

  "Beyond Blue" by Alice Wang. Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

"Beyond Blue" by Alice Wang. Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

Whether manifested in clothing and medical garb or used in the process of diagnosis, color is another avenue through which illness narratives can be conveyed and understood. By reflecting on the stories that surround us, especially those we have the privilege of shaping, we as clinicians may begin to see the humanism that lies in the details, in the colors and sentiments not conveyed through a textbook diagnosis.

 

 


Alice Wang is a third-year undergraduate student at Stanford University studying Materials Science & Engineering. She is interested in the importance of interpersonal narratives in both art and medicine, and seeks to better understand the healing potential of narrative medicine. Alice enjoys portrait drawing and her artwork has been exhibited in student exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the San Diego Museum of Art. She is involved in biomaterials research for regenerative medicine at Stanford and will be applying to medical school this summer. Her artwork "Beyond Blue" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.

Thoughts on Poetry, On Dying by Mikki Aronoff

In my pre-poet life using creative arts therapies with adult and pediatric cancer patients, and later, with family and friends, I was honored to attend many “good” deaths. My personal debt to hospice caregivers became immeasurable – the support they give to the dying and to survivors, how they taught me to carve my own grief.

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Unconscious Memoir: Seeing My Medical Emergency from Others' Perspectives by Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser

In “A Life Less Terrifying: The Revisionary Lens of Illness,” a non-fiction piece published in the Spring 2016 Intima, writer Ann Wallace notes that “The act of living and of moving forward requires a constant recursive motion of looking back and re-visioning.” I’m newly aware of that recursive motion, as my essay “Fluid” opened an unexpected conversation with my family around my bout with sepsis pneumonia.

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How a poem entitled “All the Girls Were There, and Gorgeous” helps us reflect on illness, morality and memories by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

   Andrew Taylor-Troutman earned a certificate in Narrative Healthcare from the Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative through Lenoir-Rhyne University. He is a Presbyterian pastor serving a congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His story  “Cups and Such”  appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman earned a certificate in Narrative Healthcare from the Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative through Lenoir-Rhyne University. He is a Presbyterian pastor serving a congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. His story “Cups and Such” appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

A year ago, a half-dozen older women gathered in a church fellowship hall. The coffee percolated as copies of “All the Girls Were There, and Gorgeous,” a poem by Carlene Kucharczyk in the Spring 2017 issue of Intima, were passed around our circle of chairs. As facilitator of this narrative healthcare workshop, I read the poem out loud. The gas logs hummed for a moment in the silent room. I was about to launch into questions specific to Kucharczyk’s remarkable poem when this participant spoke, quietly yet clearly: “Do you think it would be easier to have Alzheimer’s or ALS?”

A year later, her question came back to me and I wrote my little story, “Cups and Such,” not as an answer, but to continue the conversation.

Her question proposes a binary. In some ways, “Cups and Such” is the mirror opposite of Kucharczyk’s poem – a woman awake in her life, though / she doesn’t know it compared to a man fully aware of the betrayal by his body. But both poem and story deal with the same haunting theme: What is our relationship to our past? Memories flit and flash in and out of our consciousness like fireflies. Is hindsight really 20-20? Or, is it that we are continually revising our story to make meaning? “Revision” means to look again; etymologically, so does “respect.”

Skilled poets, like Kucharczyk, write with clarity yet focused ambiguity, thereby asking readers to look again and again for interpretations. We read and continue the conversation. A year later, I remember how the workshop participants were divided as to the moral character of the narrator: We do not like to visit her, / I hope she does not know. Was the narrator a “good granddaughter” or not? What is expected of us when a family member has a terminal disease? Could it be that the way the sick perceive us changes, say, from a bright shining face to the appearance of a moon? Is that cold and distant? Or, could the transformation be a natural reflection of a previous light?

And I still wonder, in Kucharczyk’s words, about the part that is elsewhere. Time is not linear. Perhaps there are moments, even in pain (whether physical or emotional or spiritual), when all the girls are gorgeous, when all is whole again and saved.


Andrew Taylor-Troutman earned a certificate in Narrative Healthcare from the Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative through Lenoir-Rhyne University. His recent essays have been published online at Mockingbird (http://www.mbird.com) and his poetry at Bearings (https://collegevilleinstitute.org/bearings). He is a Presbyterian pastor serving a congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He and his wife have three children. His story “Cups and Such” appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

A Matrix for Healing: Understanding the Psychic and Moral Wounds on Clinicians During Wartime by Michael Brown, OD

Dr. Brown, in his evocative and poignant essay “The Moral Matrix of Wartime Medicine,” (Intima, Fall 2015), describes his experiences as a young physician during the Vietnam War and both the immediate and long-term effects of the psychic and moral wounds he and other military medical personnel accrued while serving in combat zones.

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