Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Purple Coat club launch

The first meeting of a medical humanities book/film club will be held on Tuesday 31 May. We'll be kicking off with a film: Hitchcock's Spellbound. We are meeting in Room 311 in the Mechanical Engineering Department, Imperial College London (South Kensington campus) at 7.30 pm. We'll watch the film, then have a discussion. Anyone is welcome to attend and it's free, but please let me know if you are coming so that (a) arrangements for security access can be made if you do not have a swipe card, (b) I know how much popcorn to bring. E-mail giskin dot day at imperial dot ac dot uk or click here. Please also e-mail or post as a comment any suggestions you have for films and books for future gatherings.

Waterstone's on the Imperial College campus is offering 10% discount on these books: just mention the book club when you purchase them.

The next few months' programme:

Tuesday, 28 June, 7.30 pm: book to be discussed: Abraham Verghese's The Tennis Partner. This acclaimed book is about the author's friendship with a cocaine-addicted intern. You can access extracts and audio clips here.

Tuesday, 26 July, 7.30 pm: book to be discussed: Safelight by Shannon Burke. A fast-paced novel about a paramedic working in Harlem with a sideline in gruesome phtoography. There are lots of interesting ideas in this book, not least about visual representation and the psyche. (Don't let the poor cover and badly written blurb put your off!)

Tuesday, 30 August, 7.30 pm: film viewing and discussion: Now, Voyager starring Bette Davis in a classic tale of psychiatric metamorphosis.

In case you are mystified by the name 'Purple Coat Club', it is based on a poem by physician-poet Dannie Abse. Copyright restrictions prevent me from reproducing it here, but e-mail me for an explanation.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Illness experience exhibition

'It's Inside', an installation by Katharine Meynell & Alistair Skinner is on at the Exhibition at Cafe Gallery Projects London in Southwark Park SE, until 29 May 2005. Wednesday - Sunday, 12 noon - 6 pm, Admission Free.

'It's Inside' is an exhibition of video and sculptural objects, accompanied by an artist's book. When artist Alistair Skinner was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, he and his partner Katharine Meynell decided to create 'It's Inside', an art work exploring the representation and experience of disease from the position of the patient. In collaboration with Dr Eric Clark, they documented Alistair's illness in videos, diaries, drawings and objects.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Osho Zen Tarot: The Lovers

Pondering in my post-exam relief, and in a flash of spirituality, I blew the dust from my tarot cards last night and picked one. The issue in my mind: what do I think of medicine as a career for me, and will I actually become a doctor?

I ended up being so amazed at what resulted that I thought I’d share it here. I simply picked one card and interpreted the complementary narrative with regard to me and my situation, beliefs, and thoughts.

My card:

The Lovers Posted by Hello

The commentary accompanying the card reads as follows:

'What we call love is really a whole spectrum of relating, reaching from the earth to the sky. At the most earthy level, love is sexual attraction. Many of us remain stuck there, because our conditioning has burdened our sexuality with all kinds of expectations and repressions. Actually the biggest 'problem' with sexual love is that it never lasts. Only if we accept this fact can we then really celebrate it for what it is - welcome it’s happening, and say good-bye with gratitude when it’s not. Then as we mature, we can begin to experience the love that exists beyond sexuality and honors the unique individuality of the other. We begin to understand that our partner often functions as a mirror, reflecting unseen aspects of our deeper self and supporting us to become whole. This love is based in freedom, not expectation or need. Its wings take us higher and higher towards the universal love that experiences all as one.'

Sometimes, at first glance, these narratives seem rather obscure. Nevertheless, with a bit of laterality and an open mind, they can often become quite clear. Here I’ll explain how I believe this card applies to me.

In many ways I could describe my rapport with medicine as a love-hate relationship: I was attracted to it superficially at age eighteen, it was good looking, but it wasn’t until much later that I took another look and saw the grey, the wrinkles, the blemishes. I don’t mean this with scorn or regret, simply that I was young and idealistic, with no real experience or knowledge of life or the world. Even now, I am full of doubts about the future. Even so, we medics all made a decision at a tender age that would shape our entire future. We are always attracted to things in the first instance by their appearance. I still am more keen to buy a book if I like the cover. Obviously, if something is ugly to us, we are repelled. But what we want is to pursue the thrill we get from looking at that item, to develop it and surrender to our animalistic lust. But this polarity plunges me between satisfaction and uneasiness like a clocks pendulum, the tick amplifying with every swing.
Conditioning for me represents parental influence. A medical degree is of social advantage to one’s parents! If anyone were to be devastated should I not become a doctor, it would be my parents (you can’t blame them really). I resent the social implications of not finishing a degree: having a BSc makes me ponder my new potential and ability to finally finish my education: I am so sick of assessment. Although I am determined to finish my degree, I can’t deny the temptation of deserting. My current temping job with a marketing company is refreshing enough alone without the thought that a decent qualification is on its way. I just don’t want to be shot for cowardice.
So sexual love never lasts. It dies away, fading thrill. We all become impotent one day. Does medicine no longer do it for me? A combination of dread at the challenges of the next two years, the hardest of my life, combined with the satisfaction of a degree, intermixed with the lure of resting on my laurels feeling very pleased with myself floods over me. Call me old, but the idea of a salary and a mortgage seems quite nice – especially when weighed against two more years of tuition fees, rent, loan and overdraft.
So perhaps this is my epiphany. If I realise I have fallen out of love with medicine, perchance I can continue relax and enjoy it during the good times as normal, but not worry when feeling caged, unable to stretch my wings, and simply enjoy the possibilities out there that there are for me should I choose to pursue them.
Moreover, I can give medicine a bit more respect. Sometimes I resent it not for what it is, but for those medical traits I see in myself that I despise. It is always easy to blame someone else, but the truth is, when you take a good look inside, a fair amount of blame can usually be discovered within. Why shouldn’t I be able to join forces with medicine, instead of struggle against assimilation? A merger, not a takeover. A mirror, highlighting what is good and valued, not that I do not wish to become. The key here is it is all based in freedom – when I realise the door to the cage has never been closed at all will I be able to admire it, as opposed to bemoaning the bars. In this way I will realise it has never really been a cage at all – more an incubator sheltering a trembling hatchling.

So whether it’s a lover’s tiff or an acrimonious divorce, this period has been one of reflection and analysis. I cannot say with any conviction that I would ever quit medicine – but I’d like to imagine I might not spend my career wholly as a doctor. That certainly makes those clouds on the horizon seem less ominous and more bearable.

I was amazed by the pertinence of this card I chose. It is not the first time these cards have cut straight into my consciousness, and I can wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone who ever feels that a bit of guidance wouldn’t go amiss. The key is interpretation – they can be about whatever you think they are about. You will be surprised at the explicitness your own subconscious.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Am I dreaming? Book review - Coma by Alex Garland

Garland writes a psychological drama inside the mind of a man who is, as the title suggests, in a coma. The narrator Carl begins a journey of recovery from the coma with some bizarre experiences where he contemplates whether he might have brain damage or amnesia. Eventually he realises he is still within the coma and everything occurs with the logic of dreams. Garland explores the fine line between reality and dreamland. We join the narrator in the confusion and also follow his journey as he tries to rise out of the coma. In the manner of computer quest games Carl navigates through aspects of his life to use as triggers to return to the waking world.

This short novel is easy to read with short chapters with cliff hangers. At times Garland’s writing is quite dark and even terrifying in the depths of the coma as he creates a sense of metal claustrophobia. The original woodblock illustrations which accompany each chapter and blank pages with the novel both add to this dramatic effect of the turbulent and difficult journey of trying to return to waking world.

Doctors may be able to relate better with patient’s experiences of being in a coma after reading this book. Although everyone is able to relate with this book as everyone dreams and can relate with the surprising speed with which we forget our dreams. The inadequacy of language in the waking world to truly understand another person’s dream is something I personally understand. You definitely won’t fall asleep while reading this as your dreams may get confused with Carl’s!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Association of Medical Humanities conference reminder

A reminder that abstracts need to be submitted by 20 May for the 'Metaphors for Practice' conference in Truro, hosted by the Association for Medical Humanities. The conference takes place on 10, 11 and 12 of July. Click here for the booking form.

Events of interest coming up

The final three King's Dialogues in Literature and Medicine take place this month:

Thursday 12 May, 6.30 pm. Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, on 'Mr Thornton's experiments: transformations in culture and health'
Thursday 19 May, 6.30 pm. Sally Shuttleworth on childhood in 19th century fiction and psychiatry
Thursday 26 May, 5.00 pm. Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan. 'What can narrative theory learn from illness narratives?'

The Dialogues take place in the Maughan Library on Chancery Lane. Book your place on 020 7848 2929.


The Royal Institution has the following medicine-related events this month:

Tuesday 17 May, 7.00 pm. Prof. Igor Aleksander talks on 'My emerging mind.'
Tuesday 31 May, 7.00 pm. Dr Mark Thomas on 'You are what you drink': the genetics, evolution and archaeology of drinking milk.

Tickets cost £8 or £5 for concessions. Phone 020 7409 2992 to book.


There is a lovely programme of events, 'The Healing Arts' exploring the literary influences of medicine at Keats House in Hampstead.

Wednesday 11 May, 7 pm. 'Medicine and Keats', a talk by Dr Hillas Smith
Wednesday 25 May, 7 pm. 'The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hunter', a talk by Simon Chaplin
Wednesday 1 June, 7 pm. Poetry readings by U A Fanthorpe.
Wednesday 8 June, 7 pm. 'Physicians to all men', a talk on the influence of Keat's medical training on his poetry by Dr Naomi Lightman

You can book by telephoning 020 74352062. Further details here.


The Dana Centre behind the Science Museum continues to put on a varied and interesting programme. Events this month include:

Wednesday 11 May: 'Meet the Mighty Gene Machine'. An interactive drama looking at the implications of storing genetic profiles.
Thursday 12 May: 'Can you eat yourself healthy?' Expert-panel led discussion on the link between diet and health.
Wednesday, 18 May: Dinner@Dana. Cafe Scientifique event during which Erin Brunner talks on work stress and health.
Thursday, 19 May: 'Is it you or I who should be in the asylum?' Why are people with severe personality disorders locked up?
Friday, 20 May: 'DNA, genes and the brain'. A biggie: James Watson in discussion with Colin Blakemore.
Tuesdays, 24 and 31 May: 'Punk Science: the Albert Einstein Experience'. Okay, not exactly medical but it sounds like fun.

Events are free (except Dinner@Dana) but you do need to pre-book by phoning 020 7942 4040 or e-mailing tickets@danacentre.org.uk