Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Medical Musings: Sacrificial Ceremony

(Note: names have been changed to protect identities)

Whilst my patient was being prepped on the operating table, Shaun (the Upper GI surgical registrar) and I had an honest chat. It started with a simple “Oh, why did you decide on surgery as a speciality?”, but soon developed into a complexed discussional affair that interestingly touched on topics such as kids, art history and pangs of guilt. Small, little, minutely-built Shaun, wrapped up in sterile drapes, masked, gloved, fingers on the ready, told me what I wouldn’t dream to hear anyone who has walked down that path say - “Your life, Diyana, is already consumed by Medicine and you know it.”

Even after scrubbing-in, Shaun’s mind was not cleansed of the filthy guilt that stealthily plagued him all his life. The soapy antibacterial suds that dripped from his fingers, forming a trail that marked the path from sink to prep table to operating table, carving the circumference of the little area that we both were standing in - if only it were not reality; that it was just a small, sterile corner where the truth can’t puncture into. “My wife did the right thing.” Shaun added. “She refused to embark on a career as demanding as this. I can only live life once my work has reached its end. I can only silently watch as she lives hers.”

And just. Like. That; the short digression ended, the conversation’s heels turned. We reverted to lighter topics: on Asian food, cooking equipment, the cultural mixture in Singapore, even the prerequisite filler of weather and the warm Australian sun. Within the walls of the medium-sized operating theatre, for what felt like minutes, our attentions deviated away from the medical machinery that surrounded us, the patient that lay by our side, roaming freely into the outside world where we longed to unleash our imaginations that have been locked in too tight.

Toby, the senior registrar, called on Shaun as he made a long slit on my patient’s abdomen. It was an incisional hernia; the patient insisted that it be must be acted on for cosmetic reason. As the diathermy blitzed its way through layers of skin, fat, subcutaneous tissue, vessels, peritoneum and then the inflammatory mess a previous mesh had left behind (for this was not the patient’s first attempt), I thought to myself as my guilt too prodded deeper still - what have I given up and what for?

My patient lying motionless, unaware of his surroundings; his legs and hands spread out like a sacrificial offering. He must have known that it will not be the last time that his bowels will lay splayed out in the open, gasping for breath. It will become progressively rebellious; the operations more risky. No amount of vanity can hide it all in; no synthetic covering can blind you from what you’ve already seen.

Despite standing there in my scrubs - covered mostly from head to toe - I have never felt more emotionally naked, never more vulnerable as if placed on an altar. Life is not long enough to live with complete satisfication, or perhaps no human being can settle comfortably with what they already have.

One has to sacrifice a bit of himself, unfortunately, to be who he wants to be.

Medical Poetry evening

The Medical Humanities Society / Purple Coat Club is hosting a medical poetry evening on Thursday 6 December at 8 pm in the Humanities Department, level 3, Sherfield Building, Imperial College London. Our guest will be poet Carole Satyamurti, whose works include 'Stitching the Dark' and 'Love and Variations'. Her most overtly medical poetry is in the anthology 'Changing the Subject'. This include a cycle of poems about breast cancer which forms an astute commentary on so many of the themes which preoccupy the medical humanities: the doctor-patient relationship, the experience of the hospital environment, and the transition from person to patient and back again. In spite of dealing with complex themes, the poems are very accessible. I love the way they are reflexive about how the illness experience transforms the acts of seeing and saying. Flowers are congratulatory at the bedside stage, applauding the successful adoption of the role of patient, yet they also seem harbingers of doom -- what happened to the prior occupant of the bed? In the poem 'How are you?' the ritualistic phrase has its meaning rearranged in the context of serious illness.

Do come and join us for a pre-Christmas celebration of medical poetry. Everyone is welcome and there is no charge. Please e-mail me if you plan to come so that I can send details of access and directions (and it helps with the catering!).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Review of Jonathon Kaplan's talk

Posted on behalf of Anjali Chandra:

I thought the talk was very enlightening. For me personally my family life was affected by the Gulf War so it was nice to medicalise it and see how Dr Kaplan and others helped out there.

He had lots of stories as you can imagine and most of the audience were non-medical students it seemed. The organiser seemed to be trying to glorify Dr Kaplan's career more than Dr Kaplan himself.

He was much more humble and explained the difficulty with adjusting back to life in UK after such missions.

It was funny to learn that in the UK he just locums as a surgeon and how he is happy that his career is now being made into a speciality that students can consider as a career option.

I appreciate that my take-home message was very different to others as the discussion in the pub afterwards revealed! Of course I bought both his books and got his autograph too!

Friday, November 16, 2007

'Must' is a must!

Work by the Clod Ensemble always defies glib genre assignment, and their new performance piece ‘Must’ is no exception. It’s probably best described as a confrontational monologue, delivered by the gender-ambiguous Peggy Shaw, with some parts set to images and live music. Shaw’s theme is bones: the skeletons of animals, the sucking and crunching of chicken bones, and her own bones – redolent with memories both innate and acquired. Shaw addresses us, in the small space of the Wellcome Collection’s forum, as if we are, at first, strangers and then lovers. She is De Neroesque in more than her looks, with a hypnotic stage presence enhanced by the choreographed lighting effects. The result is unnerving and energising. 'I have 13 bodies and this is just one of them,' says Shaw, utterly plausibly.

'Must' was ably complemented by the first part of a new series of performances called 'Under Glass'. Sachi Kimura 'dances' in a large glass jar which suggests both womb and scientific specimen. There are six more vessels to come in the series which has been commissioned by Sadler's Wells.

The second showing of 'Fantastic Voyage' at the Wellcome Collection on 22 November is sold out, but it's worth being on the lookout for other opportunities to see this and future installments in the series.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

CPS Open Seminars Series

Thought some of you might be interested in one or two of these seminars at Essex.

Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies
Open Seminars Series 2007-8

The Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies (CPS) has offered a series of Open Seminars for many years. The seminars are open to all current and past students and staff of CPS, members of the University at any level, and scholars and mental health professionals in the locality.

The seminars take place on the third, sixth and ninth Wednesdays in Terms One and Two and Three in room 4N.6.1. Time: 5pm-6-30pm.

November 14th Dr Alan Cardew: 'Politics, Paranoia, and Psychoanalysis in the United States'

December 5th Dr John Walshe: 'Space, Communication and Therapy'

January 30th Dr Nikolai Sakharov: 'The Idea of Personhood in Modern Russian Thought'

February 20th Mrs Marie Bridge: 'Psychoanalysis and Literature'

March 12th Professor Martin Stanton: 'Alienation in Psychoanalytic Work'

May 7th Professor Rachel Blass: 'From Seduction Phantasy to Faith: Freud's Struggle with Doubt and Conviction in the Truth of his Ideas as the Grounds of a Psychoanalytic Approach to Knowledge'

May 28th Dr Mary James: 'Jean-Martin Charcot and the Art of the Clinic – A Visual Approach to the Study of Hysteria in Belle Epoque Paris

June 18th Professor Les Lancaster: 'Kabbalistic Psychology and the Cognitive Neuroscience of Consciousness'

For more information email cpsadmin@essex.ac.uk
or visit here

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Invitation to special screening

Posted on behalf of Robert Sternberg:

I would like to invite you to a film show next month. As some of you may know, I was a friend of Miriam Hyman, one of those killed on the No30 bus on July 7th 2005. Later that year Miriam's parents and friends established the Miriam Hyman Memorial Fund which has financed young eye doctors from the developing world to come to London for training in specialist techniques. Every year they try to organise some events for further fund raising and this year, on the 9th December we are organising a charity screening of In The Shadow of the Moon at the Tricycle Cinema in North London. The film was co-produced by Chris Riley, a friend and colleague of Miriam. It has already won several prestigious awards in the USA and you can find out more about it here: http://www.miriam-hyman.com/shadow_moon.asp

I do hope you you might be able to attend and if so, please do buy tickets in advance so we know how many people to expect. This is very much a word of mouth promotion so please encourage your friends also. The film is beautiful and the fund is doing important work.