My eyes have adjusted. Faint streaks of light from the edges of my window illuminate the darkness of my room. I toss onto my side and my gaze drifts to the shadows on the wall. I make shapes out of them, like making shapes out of passing clouds.
As a person still learning to manage grief, I have to remind myself that perfection doesn’t exist in our loved ones either. We are all imperfect beings, but the best we can do is try, believe in ourselves and tell some stupid jokes along the way.
Sunshine, in the mornings, / spills. It / slips and slithers as it / tills.
To be seen, / as you are, / For who you are, / Absent judgment, / Equals patient care.
In disease and in health, our bodies tell stories. But more often than not, these stories are left unheard and unseen. A meaningful method for illuminating untold stories is through traditional/classical dance forms. Dance especially is a space for knowledge and roles to be authentically represented. For marginalized communities in particular, traditional dance has for centuries been a medium for creative expression and healing despite how circumstances and society have complicated their access to care.
Many patient encounters, often brief, have left me with a lasting impression. I reflect on these moments by capturing the dialogue, gestures or quiet observations that occur when caring for patients.
His hands were shaking as they gently peeled open a tattered envelope. I leaned forward, attempting to understand what he was trying to show us, then gasped.
‘Write Rx’ is a narrative medicine column offering ‘prescriptions’ for narrative medicine exercises. Each column entry begins with an introduction to the theme of the entry, offers literary excerpts to expand on that theme and concludes with questions that invite students to explore a corresponding narrative medicine topic. The goal is to offer space for reflection for busy medical students, as well as foster medical students’ communication toolkit in the increasingly complex space of patient care. Topics include cultural fluency, illness cognitions and more.
Over the next few days, workup revealed she was experiencing paraneoplastic cerebellar degeneration, a manifestation of her occult cancer. In a matter of three days, a patient who had come in for seemingly benign constipation was told she had metastatic lung cancer.
When I was growing up, I used to love a particular series of video games called Trauma Center. In 2010, they released a version called Trauma Team where you got to play as various medical specialists, one of whom was simply considered a “Diagnostician.” Dr. Gabriel Cunningham’s “cases” were some of the most challenging because you were presented with an array of symptoms, imaging, and lab work and started ruling in or ruling out diagnoses until you got the right answer.
Every day, twenty times a day, I listen to breaths. “Take a deep breath in and out… good… and another…” Mostly clear breaths, sometimes crackly, sometimes wheezy. I place a hand on the person’s shoulder, subtly offering kindness and connection. I enjoy this time to take deep breaths myself.
Simply put, the humanities seek to capture the mosaic of human existence across the chasms of jubilation and despair, life and death, love and fear. The humanities are both disciplines of academic study and modes of expression.