Friday, January 20, 2006

Open Window

Last week I went on my first patient visit with the GP to see an elderly lady. She had recurrence of a throat cancer for which she had had a larygnectomy twenty years ago, leaving her unable to speak.It was saddening and fascinating to communicate with her: she made use of gestures effectively, and began by mouthing words, then writing on a pad. She also used a vibrating device against her throat which amplified the speech movements. I was able to understand a small amount of her speech, and fortunately the GP can understand her completely (and is the only one in the practice who can do so) but I felt best connected with her when she took my hand.

She had a mischevious sense of humour, telling jokes and buzzing her device to check if I was paying attention! (Her cat was pleased to receive guests and was rubbing around our ankles)
When she broke down I felt glad that simply touching was of comfort: there was little else I could say or do to make the situation any better.

The whole experience reminded me strongly of a piece by Deidre Scherer, who works in fabric and thread. It depicts an emaciated woman and her cat, and strongly signifies chronic disease and old age:

Some other pieces I noticed from the artist's website are The Last Year and Surrounded By Family which are also extremely thought-provoking.

3 comments:

Giskin said...

This brought a lump to my throat. It's a beautiful artwork -- it brings a kind of beauty to illness and old age. My 89-year-old grandmother in South Africa is fading away with the same sort of grace and equanimity that the picture evokes.

aj said...

Faded grandeur is something the elderly seem to possess before the inevitable decline. Its fantastic you still have a grandmother - I lost all my grandparents some years ago sadly.

What did you think of the other pieces? They deal with morbidity in a soft way - I think they'd be rather beautiful in the flesh, being soft fabrics. Its a shame she doesn't exhibit in the UK.

Aiming for a Kaplan review this weekend.

Anna said...

I love reading about these intimate experiences that are parts of our every day lives. They deserve to be mulled over. All too precious to slip away as just fragments of a day on the job.

Other peoples art seems to make so much sense when it encaptures the essence of such a moments. It's great that you drew the connection between the two.