Friday, March 31, 2006

A Good Death?

Yesterday on Radio Four there was an interesting discussion of palliative care on the regular You and Yours program. For me it brought to mind this image by Ferdinand Hodler. Painted in 1915, The Dying Valentine Godé-Darel shows only one image of many which portray death and dying. The show discussed ideas surrounding attitudes to death and what might constitute a 'good death'. You can listen to it again here.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Photo Competition

(From this month's Student BMA News)

The BMA are running a photo competition until May 31st. The theme is 'Medical Student Life, at Work, at Play', and entries can reflect any aspect of medical school life.

The winner receives a return flight paid for by STA Travel. Three runners up each get £100 vouchers. The lucky photographers are announced at the BMA annual representative meeting in June.

Some of the previous winners:

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Next Purple Coat Club meeting

The Purple Coat Club meets on Thursday 6 April to discuss Sylvia Plath's only novel, The Bell Jar. The venue is Room 119 of the Sir Alexander Fleming Building on the South Kensington campus of Imperial College. Everyone is welcome.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Hannah Wilke: Putting Illness In The Picture

Hannah Wilke was an artist who worked until her death. Rather than end her photographic practice when she became ill, Wilke recorded her illness for all to see. These self-portraits(taken for Wilke by Donald Goddard) are part of her Intra-Venus Series and were taken in or near her hospital bed in 1992. The bed, whether in sickness or in health, is a key site of our identity - it is where we are born, sleep, make love, seek refuge and finally die. Wilke herself died of cancer in 1993, but not before leaving us with an incredible collection of photographs charting the progression of her illness and the progressive decay of her body. All the images show pain but some, like the one on the right, perhaps reveal an acceptance and a sense of peace. She must have been a very strong individual.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Art of Bleeding's Valentine

This is quite an eerie video I found that uses medical imagery to assess the concept of love. It was created by a group known as "Art of Bleeding" who formulate ways to educate people about emergency medical situations through alternative methods such as film, music, dance and puppetry. The sampling and slight randomness reminds me a little of The Avalanches' track Frontier Psychiatrist. Have a watch below.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Teaching of Edward - An Operetta in Four Parts

The Teaching of Edward - An Operetta in Four Parts

"The year is 1879. A new band master has just been appointed to the asylum.

His name is Edward Elgar.
Find out why asylums and music were never quite the same again..."

Thursday 23rd - Friday 24th March 2006

Drewe Lecture Theatre, Reynolds Building
Charing Cross Hospital

Tickets £7, ICSM students £5. Refreshments provided.
Tickets available on the door or contact 0207 386 1237 or

All profits from this production will be used to buy musical instruments in the development of music therapy for psychiatric patients in Lithuania where this operetta has already been performed.

La Specola

I've just returned from four fantastic days in Florence, where I had a chance to visit the somewhat undercelebrated 'La Specola' Gallery. It houses some of the most detailed anatomical wax models, dating from the 18th century and used for teaching purposes. Bodies recline on satin sheets, or enclosed in glass cases. They are all life-size and there are over 100 different individual pieces, and about 10 full size bodies.

The gallery not only contains anatomy but a few pieces of pathology, most notably a model showing different types of ectopic pregnancy.

Sculptors took up dissection in the 17th century in order to be able to accurately portray the human figure in their pieces. The intersection with art is apparent at the end of the exhibition, where we are treated to four allegorical pieces: Pestilence, The Triumph of Time, The Corruption of Bodies and The French Pox.

The exhibition alludes to the recent Bodyworlds phenomenon, without the showmanship and macabre edge.

The TimeOut guidebook I had referred to the museum as being 'suitable for children with a horror interest'. I say that this is a fascinating exhibit for any scientifically or medically interested individual, and ought to be more widely advertised.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Billy's Halo

In the wake of popular science's emphasis on the brain, and books like Ian McEwan's Saturday, neuroscience is literarily trendy. The latest is Billy's Halo an offering from neuroscientist Ruth Mckernan which relates the double-vision with which she experienced her father's death. As a scientists she grappled with what she knew of science to analyse and understand his condition, but grief and love are unregulated by clinical knowledge. Mckernan was interviewed on Midweek this morning. I'm looking forward to reading her book.

Monday, March 13, 2006

RCOG - recurrent miscarriage

On Thursday 9th March I went to a Consumer's forum public lecture: Recurrent Miscarriage given by Professor Lesley Regan at the RCOG.

It was a captivating talk which was aimed at a wide audience. Prof Regan successfully managed to cover the basics of recurrent miscarriage - definition, causes, treatements etc as well as convey the psychological and physical trauma these women endure. She included lots of photos to emphasise the reality of the problem and kept it simple so everyone could understand.

Sadly the questions afterwards were mainly of a personal nature rather than general, there were lots of women in the audience who wanted their stories to be heard and Prof Regan stayed behind later to listen to those who were reticent.

It was an enlightening lecture and I highly recommend any future public events at RCOG.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

This from the Enlightenment ethusiasts, the Institute of Ideas.

By Carl Djerassi
Saturday 18 March
Early matinee from 2.30pm to 4.40pm
Debate from at 5.00pm to 6.30pm
Tickets for Matinee and debate £19/ £17 concessions
Tickets for debate only £9/ £7 concessions

New End Theatre Box office - 0870 033 2733

Terms such as 'marriage', 'family', and 'parent' used to have firm denotations. They were the rock on which many of our cultural values rested. Terms such as 'embryo', 'baby', or 'twin' were also considered unambiguous. But recently, all these terms have become destabilized, their meanings blurred, their range extended. Some would blame in vitro fertilization technology for these developments, but in fact major social and cultural changes, primarily in the USA and Europe, were more responsible for the monumental shift that has caused so much fear and antagonism, especiallyamong the ever increasingly strident fundamentalists in the USA. So why not write a play about a situation where 'family' and 'parent' have assumeddisturbingly fuzzy meanings? TABOOS may be seen as a classic tale of scientific progress. A scientific innovation is greeted with outrage from traditional moralists, who predict the collapse of society if the innovation is allowed. But the secular lawpermits the innovation (because there are deserving cases) and society learns to cope, until the next challenge when the whole process is repeated. TABOOS cleverly raises as many questions as it answers. Are not the fundamentalist Christians on uncertain ground basing themselves on a holy book full of unusual family set-ups and a messiah who is the product of a surrogate birth? Will not the lawyers be the main beneficiaries of the legal complications of alternative families? What does a child in a lesbian family call its two 'mothers'? Above all, is it science that is pushing these issues forward, or is it society insisting scientists come up with solutions to questions that traditional social institutions can no longer answer?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Congratulations AJ!

Regular readers look forward to AJ's blog submissions which are invariably well argued and throught-provoking. Today sees the publication in the sBMJ of an important article by AJ on attitudes to male obstetrics and gynae students. This ties in with recent concern by the RCOG on falling numbers of doctors opting for the specialism. You can read the article here.