Monday, September 24, 2007

Special medical writing programme at Festival

This year's The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival is featuring a programme on 'Writing Medicine', a series of events that aim to explore the interaction between literature and medicine.
Wellcome Trust 'Writing Medicine' events

Sebastian Faulks and Steve Jones
Sat 6 Oct/14.15-15.15/Town Hall/£7
Sebastian Faulks' bestselling novel 'Human Traces' draws on five years' research in medical libraries, while Steve Jones' 'Coral' used the amazing power of the electronic Web of Science to mine the world for information. They discuss the pleasures and challenges of the research process, and the fascinating and often unpredictable ways it shapes their work.

Sun 7 Oct/14.15-15.15/Town Hall/£6
From 'Dr Finlay's Casebook' to 'ER', portrayal of the medical world has undergone a seismic shift. Ambulanceman Tom Reynolds, author of the award-winning blog 'Blood, Sweat and Tea', joins former doctor Jed Mercurio, creator of 'Bodies and Cardiac Arrest', and The Times' Thomas Stuttaford to explore whether fact matches up to fiction.

The Only Boy in the World
Mon 8 Oct/14.00-15.00/Town Hall/£6
Michael Blastland has written powerfully about his son's autism. He joins Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre, and Marti Leimbach, author of 'Daniel Isn't Talking', to talk about their own experiences, how autism is reflected on the page and how this relates to the latest medical thinking.

In Sickness and in Health
Wed 10 Oct/16.00-1700/Town Hall/£6
How do authors write about illness and recovery? Poet and non-fiction writer Gwyneth Lewis and author Jeremy Thomas have both written powerfully about depression and illness. They join Brian Hurwitz to discuss reading, writing and recovery.

Ian McEwan and Steven Pinker
Sat 13 Oct/12.00-13.00/Everyman Theatre/£7
How does language shape who we are? Booker-winning novelist Ian McEwan and bestselling psychologist Steven Pinker share a fascination for the way language can offer a window into the depths of human nature. They make an unmissable rare joint appearance.

Sun 14 Oct/ 15.00-16.00/Town Hall/£6
Neuropsychologist Paul Broks' 'Into the Silent Land' is a haunting meditation on the relationship between mind and body, while The Times' Erica Wagner's debut novel 'Seizure' uses epilepsy to explore similar terrain. They discuss the portrayal of epilepsy in literature and drama and its power as a fictional device.

The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival runs from 5 to 14 of October. To book tickets please call the credit card hotline on 01242 227979. For full programme details see The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival website.

New source of Medical Humanities funding

The Wellcome Trust has just announced Strategic Awards in the Medical Humanities which will promote multidisciplinary research collaborations. This is good news for the field. More details here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Back To Work 1: shades of nights past

I have now been well and truly blooded in the deep-immersion technique of returning to surgery, feet first, into the deep end. In fact, I exaggerate. It felt, for the months leading up to this entry, that it would be extremely deep and extremely bloody, but this is not a war zone. The denizens of my particular corner of the city seem to be maintaining a truce in the gun and stabbing battles that can so excite those of us employed to clean up afterwards. Either that, or they have got better at finishing off their victims, and bypassed us altogether for the more direct line to the morgue. My nights have involved so far the usual grist to the surgical mill of appendices inflamed and not inflamed along with abscesses - hundreds of years of lancing the spectacular things. One has to treasure the operations that necessarily bring you thanks. Most of our interventions hurt and need explaining. However there are a few that bring instant relief: relieving your buttock abscess of an acre of pus; catheterising a man in acute retention of urine, though messy and now, one would hope, rather below me after years of it. All lead to effusive gratitude. Of course, now that they have deprived our wards of all doctors except me, I will again be catheterizing when it is beyond the capabilities of the excellent, yet often hassled nurses (now "clinical site managers").

So this is what has changed: as a houseman, now 13 years ago (wince), I was the sole mistress of the wards. In charge at night of all wards and all admissions with only some tetchy and off-putting seniors to call and woe betide if my story wasn't good, and my investigations done. As an SHO, the next level up in the recently-replaced system, the housemen began to be put to bed and once again, I was the doctor in charge at night. Going round, sorting out the serious and the bog-standard annoying. Admitting and sitting on those not serious enough to wake my tetchy and demanding senior about.
I now return to active service, only to find that the SHOs, too, are in bed now. At the elevated role of Registrar, I would, once have been the tetchy one in bed but am now wandering around the wards keen to find someone to incise and drain or laparotomise to give me an excuse to avoid the drudgery they are so keen to thrust upon me.
It makes me worry slightly about the next leap up, should I make it thus far: the ultimate goal of consultant, the "attending" of the US hierarchy. When we started, they were noble figures, rarely glimpsed and obsequiously bowed-before. The yearly party hosted by them at their pads were more a chance to show off the prizes of sticking the middle years - swimming pool, racing cars, luxurious space and wine. It was supposed to be your inspiration. The standards have been slipping recently, one must admit. More likely a semi in Muswell Hill than Hampstead splendour. But now, having worked this system and expected their last twenty years to be of semi-retired elective advice as the generation before them, they are in supervising a rusty surgical girl sharpening up her knives for a measly little appendix.

What's come back? Oh the tying of knots, the laying on of hands. What's decayed? Memory, my once ace card, now a little frayed at the edges; non-surgical know-how. My, how it's moved on in my absence!
Part 2: But what about the kids?