Saturday, April 29, 2006

Psyching up...

I've just finished my first week of Psychiatry, which has thus far proven very interesting. I was most struck not by the patients, but by listening to the family, and how they deal with their affected relation, and the stigma, violence, paranoia, personality change, poor hygiene, homelessness and financial difficulties.

I hadn't really considered the social issues involved in Psychiatry; it is invariably difficult to hold down a job, which means patients quickly end up unable to support themselves and commonly become street homeless. During their stay in hospital, the aim is to organise benefits and accommodation for their discharge.

I felt apprehensive to begin with, but got stuck in and saw a patient on my first day, which quickly lifted any fears. I found myself fascinated by the content of his delusions and hallucinations, and the context of technology that so often provides a source of paranoia and persection in patients with mental health problems.

I was reminded of the 2003 film Gothika, starring Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr and Penelope Cruz. Ostensibly a horror film, it is about a psychologist, Dr Miranda Grey (Berry), who works at a female mental hospital/prison. She wakes one day to find herself an inmate, having murdered her husband, with no recollection of any of the events leading up to her incarceration. The basic theme of the film is that the delusions of a patient, Chloe (Cruz), turn out to be the truth, and Dr Grey learns first hand that her patients should be given the benefit of the doubt, especially when her colleague Pete Graham (Downey Jr) fails to believe any of her claims.

It isn't the best film in the world but might prove interesting if you are interested in psychiatry and have a penchant for horror!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Dana Centre events in May

There is a particularly rich selection in May of medicine-related events at the Dana Centre (located next door to Imperial College on Queen's Gate). Events are free and open to over-18s only. Places must be booked by calling 020 7942 4040 or by emailing

'Games' are the latest trend in trying to involve the public in decision-making on matters of science policy. DECIDE is the latest of these. It is a card-based game in which teams negotiate positions. The results are reported back to the real policy makers in Europe. To participate in a game on stem-cell policy, turn up on 3 May, 18.30 to 20.30. More details here.

A very hot topic at the moment is 'personalised medicine'. On 9 May, 19.00 to 20.30, there will be a discussion on the implications of tailoring pharmaceuticals to people's genomes. Imperial's own Katharina Wulff is one of the speakers. More details here.

This event is not specifically medical, but will hopefully be of interest to aspiring writers: the 'subtle short story competition'. It aims to inspire scientists to put their research into fiction. Winners will have their stories published in GuardianUnlimited. You have to attend the event on 10 May, 19.30 to 21.30, to be able to register for the competition.

On 17 May, 19.00 to 20.30, the links between madness and creativity in the life and works of Van Gogh will be explored. An actor playing Van Gogh will be attending, in character. I think we may need a doctor on hand to sew back his ear! Find out more here.

For the event on 18 May, 19.00 to 21.00, there is a warning on the Dana website: 'Please note that as sharp instruments may be handled, no alcohol will be served this evening.' You can practise being a brain surgeon. Unfortunately not on real brains (I had a few in mind!), but it does sound like fun. A panel of experts from KCH will talk about neurosurgery before the hands-on bit. More information here.

On 31 May, 19.00 to 20.30, there is a discussion on synaesthesia (that curious phenomenon where some people 'see' sounds and 'hear' colours). A recent collaboration between musicians and scientists has resulted in an animation of the way synaesthetes react to music. More information here.

You can't help admiring the Dana for coming up with lots of interesting talks and events (their full programme features 14 events in May). I've been to three or four in the past and it's always been an enjoyable evening. If anyone managed to go to any of the events, please let us know what you think.

Feeding it

I've just downloaded the Guardian's 'newspoint' ticker which is mesmerically scrolling news headlines on my screen. I recommend it over the Google desktop sidebar as you can customise it so much more easily to show news you care about rather than endless US stock prices, which is what Google seems to deliver unrelentingly. Newpoint also acts as a syndication site which means you can keep an eye on the latest content from blogs and journals. I have been able to add the feed from this blog alongside that from the BMJ and the New Scientist. It feels good! The address of our feed is if anyone wants to do the same. When you've downloaded newspoint, click on 'Add content' and click on the bit that says you already know the address of the content you want to add.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Bribery or bravery

Call centres, elderly people and drug trials. Exactly what is the West going to outsource to India next?

By 2010, experts estimate there will be two million patients in India on clinical trials. Drug companies, inclusive of Johnson and Johnson and the makers of Celebrex are attracted to India for numerous reasons, lower costs and fewer regulations being amongst them.

A BBC investigation into the conduct of these trials has found that some patients are unaware that they are being experimented on at all. Driven by poverty, exceptional recruitment rates abound, raising questions about fully-informed consent in a society where literacy remains continually low.

BBC2's 'This World' reports on the phenomenon in Drug Trials: The Dark Side will be broadcast on Thursday, 27 April, 2006 at 2100 BST on BBC Two.

A more concise expression of the sentiments covered can be found here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dream Horizons?

If you didn't already know, this year is the 150th anniversary of Freud's birth. The Annual Freud Memorial lecture, entitled 'Dream Horizons', will be held at the University of Essex on Friday 26th May. It will be given by Adam Phillips who was formerly the Principal Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital. For details and to reserve a free place click here. Details of all sorts of related events throught the year can also be found here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Long Way Down

Sad but true: we're more than aware that medical students are fighting the demons of crippling debt and ever-increasing workloads. Add gossiping, bitching and a set of extenuating circumstances to the mix - it becomes evident why thirty percent of clinical students have suffered from clinical depression over the years. Given the prevalence of narcissism and perfectionism amongst our lot, it's unsurprising that more than one in six of us has considered suicide at one point or another.

Consequently, the feelings experienced by a depressed colleague/loved one are well worth exploring. Nick Hornby has done this in a most insightful yet darkly comic manner. Witness his latest opus, titled 'A Long Way Down'.

Stylistically, this is a most impressive effort, given the skill required to switch the narrative between four disperate characters and not have the story fold back on itself. The exploration of the issues surrounding suicide, depression and hopelessness is especially thorough and empathetic considering the stark differences between the lives the four unlikely acquaintances lead and the author's lack of a medical/psychological background.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Getting up to date

Regular readers will have noticed the increase in 'contributors' to this blog. This is a result, mainly, of persuading the annual fresh crop of 20-or-so (I so nearly said 'odd'!) students taking the Medical Humanities option at Imperial College to write for the blog. However, we've been privileged to be joined by Beth Williamson, art historian, whose contributions on art with medical connections have been fascinating. The blog's average daily hit rate has doubled recently, which is remarkable given that it's something of a specialism.

My Easter pledge is to try to be a bit more on the ball with notice of forthcoming events. This has been very ad hoc -- AJ and I have blogged things we've come across rather than attempting anything systematic. The results that it is often a bit last-minute. Tracking down events is time consuming and I may need to recruit volunteers to do the research from time to time. As a start in the right direction, I've added to the sidebar a link to 'Grand Rounds'. This is hosted by a different blog each week. You can view the archives here. Bloggers nominate postings from their own or others' blogs and they are all gathered together as a nominal 'best' of the week's medical blogs. It often makes very interesting reading. I'll be updating this link every week (circumstances permitting). I've also attempted a summary of the medical drama on TV. Much as I might like to, I don't watch all these shows (apart from Green Wing and ER), so please tell me if I miss a new series or a series ends and I don't notice.

This Medical Humanities blog has been running for just over a year. For a 'group blog' it is remarkably harmonious -- in fact there has never been a posting that has been anything less than supportive and positive. Thank you to everyone who reads and/or contributes, with special mention of AJ who has invested a lot of time, effort and enthusiasm.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Medicine Interrupted: unmissable exhibition

Medical Humanities 2006 invites you to the grand opening of...

"Medicine Interrupted"
An extravagant exhibition combining Visual Arts and Medicine.

Date: Wednesday 26th April.

Place: Blyth Gallery - 5th Floor, Sherfield Building, South Kensington, Imperial College.

Time: 7.00 pm onwards.

Dress: Smart and Sexy.

Refreshments provided.

FREE ENTRY so bring your friends!

Come and join in the fun and have a gander at the artwork that we've worked so hard to produce this term.
We look forward to seeing you there!

NB. The exhibition will be running at the Blyth Gallery for two weeks until 04/05/06, so if you can't make the opening then please feel free to take a look another time.

Friday, April 21, 2006


I haven't seen this yet but would be interested to hear from anyone who has. Whole bodies and individual organs preserved and 'respectfully displayed' (I quote). It's on at Earls Court until 31st May. For further information click here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Single Breasted Suit

I hope readers had a lovely Easter, I recharged in Devon (but think the bags-under-eyes are now permanent). Whilst there an artist friend of mine recommended this piece from 2001 by Sam Taylor-Wood, entitled Self Portrait in a Single Breasted Suit with Hare.

Originally exhibited in 2002 in the White Cube, it refers to the artist's experience with breast cancer, the single breasted suit alluding to her subsequent mastectomy. There is a new exhibition of her work currently in Australia.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Medical Imaging and Art

Last week I spent three happy days in Leeds at the Association of Art Historians annual conference. On the last day I co-convened the student session and was pleased to find that the papers we had selected lived up to expectations. I was particularly taken by the penultimate paper which was concerned with the use of medical imaging technologies in art practice. It promised a lot and didn't disappoint. The two artists discussed were Gabriele Leidloff and Marc Didou.

Leidloff uses xray images to produce some simple but stunning ghostly images. In this instance the viewer is confused by the lack of skeleton since Leidloff used a porn doll as the subject here.

Marc Didou, on the other hand, uses drawings created from MRI scans to create his layered sculptures which surprise the viewer with their form. I found these fascinating but disturbing images to look at.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

In praise of medical humanities...

AJ has another article in the sBMJ this month on the value of creativity in medical education. Read it here.

Help Me To Speak

I caught an advert for this two-part Channel 4 documentary about stammering, due to be aired on Monday 3rd April. It looks interesting, exploring the social issues around stammering - being bullied at school, career prospects (one stammerer wants to become an actor) and relationships, or the difficulty in forming them.

The treatments involve speech therapy techniques in order to avoid triggers, recognising behaviours that are associated with a stutter and finding release words, that can help snap out of a stammer.