Friday, April 29, 2005

The Human Face of Medicine

I am guest lecturing (actually more of a moderating role) at the UW Medical School again today, for an elective called The Human Face of Medicine. I think it is terrific that UW is offering a literature and medicine elective. The text for the class is A Life in Medicine, in addition to other selected readings. Several local writers including Emily Transue (author of On Call) and Audrey Young (author of What Patients Taught Me), and myself have been invited to present. It's especially fun for me to be invited to do this, as the UW is my alma mater. I went there for 13 years! (yes . . . really . . . 6 years undergrad, 4 years medical school, and 3 years residency), so it's definitely a homecoming of sorts.

For today I'll be talking about a few poems from Saying the World, as well as leading a discussion on the readings from the syllabus, which include a very intense poem about rape, "This Red Oozing," by Jeanne Bryner; as well as one of my favorite medical poems, "What the Doctor Said," by Raymond Carver:

What The Doctor Said

He said it doesn't look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I'm glad I wouldn't want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I'm real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn't catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who'd just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong

- Raymond Carver


Martha Silano said...

Wow, Peter, thanks for posting such a great poem about the doctor/patient relationship (oooh, what an *easy* summary; no wonder John Ciardi argued his whole life for the fact that a poem could not be summarized), and by Carver no less, a writer I often felt did better with prose. Not in this instance.

You are doing a great service by teaching would-be doctors about bedside manner, about caring, about the heart and feelings of the patient. I applaud you for that.


Suzanne said...

Thanks for this, Peter.

Esther said...

Thank you, Peter, thank you.

The Sublibrarian said...

Yes, thank you.

Unsentimental and with a headlong energy I'd normally associate w/ O'Hara.

Peter said...

Thanks all: It was a really fun class: a great group: first and second year UW medical students; a couple of family med docs from Israel; an HIV clinic doc, Medical Ethics students; a pharmacy student; etc. Very lively discussion and sharing. I'd love to get a gig where I could do this kind of thing regularly!!

Anne said...

When I was at the Mayo Clinic (spent several days there once when my dad was hospitalized there, then had surgery there myself some years later), I had the impression that they did a lot of this kind of thing there -- and indeed every doctor I ran into there (and other staff members too, from phlebotomists to billing clerks) actually managed to treat me like a human being. And they seemed to remember that they were human beings, too. I don't know if any of them ever read poetry, but it wouldn't surprise me. Mayo was a neat place, with wonderful art everywhere.

Peter said...

Anne: I've never been there, but it sounds wonderful. Duke University Medical School and Hospital had poetry on the walls in the hallways: I was amazed and pleased.