My poem "Chemistry of Prognosis" was written from a recent clinical narrative when my spouse, a Doctor of Clinical Pharmacy working in a UNC affiliated hospital, came home touched by the tender humanity of an older couple who calmly and bravely faced the end of their earthly union. Yet, listening to medical narratives has been a thread throughout my life from childhood dinner tables where my mother served meals while highlighting her day’s most dramatic medical transcriptions to the very passionate and personal plea that Oliver Sacks made to a medical department and followers at his last visit to Ohio University, asking us all to always “listen to the story of the patient.” So reading Richard Westcott’s “Bright is the Ring of Words,” in the Spring 2107 Field Notes was the watering for that seed of idea that encourages us to always listen to the story of a patient or person we are facing.
Westcott steps beyond the pure science of listening to patient narratives for the purpose of transcribing symptoms and diagnosis. He does this, but in doing so he also unfolds an illustrated map of region and culture throughout his English countryside. He provides us a portrait of people relating their ailments in the language of their daily lives, their chores, in their businesses, and on their farms. Not unlike the classic James Herriot’s veterinarian chronologies, Richard Westcott uses humor and humbled confusion to share the puzzlement of a physician charged with understanding his rural patient before articulating that patient’s care. It would be easy to highlight from him and quote here the amusement of some of Richard Westcott’s language discoveries, but the art of those discoveries is in his relating and translating. So, rather than rob from his what Sacks would call his English wit, it is best to invite the reader to revisit Westcott’s writings. For Westcott reminds us that we are better people and better with our patient care when we take pleasure in truly listening to individuals as they share the stories of their conditions. And it might just have us smiling in the midst of all the seriousness of our health care systems, smiling simply to understand the words.
Kirk Hathaway, graduate of the Master’s Playwriting Program at San Francisco State University, is a previous recipient of a Showcase Writers Scholarship and Showcase Theatre Award with works produced in California and Ohio, and in collaboration with The Lancaster Chorale, Grammy Award Composer Robert Page, and a protégé of the late Marcel Marceau. He is a recipient of grants from Poets & Writers, the Ohio Humanities Council, and CATCO. Hathaway taught college writing and literature for over 20 years. After being left for dead in a head-on collision, Hathaway retreated from playwriting for more intimate voices in poetry. His most recent poems are published in Peacock Journal, Steam Ticket Journal, Circle Show, Allegro & Adagio, with prose in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact.
©2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine