Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

The Art of Medicine in Metaphors December 20, 2012

Fellow “healing writer” blogger, James Borton, has just come out with a new book , The Art of Medicine in Metaphors: A Collection of Poems and Narratives.

I met James at the 2011 Examined Life Conference hosted by the University of Iowa Writing Program and the Carver College of Medicine and was riveted by his story.  Like many of us who have experienced a life-changing health crisis, he returned to the world with a mission.  He began the blog, allheartmatters.com, where he generously writes about Medical Humanities and solicits healing narratives.  His anthology is a welcome addition to the growing literature on writing and healing.   He describes his book below:

Poetry and stories about illness address more than just the symptoms of disease. Narratives and poems are the pathways for people to make sense of and discover meaning in life’s difficult events. Three years ago, I learned a painful lesson about how a pa­tient bleeds a story. Following a triple bypass, I emerged after nine dark days from a coma after losing all of my blood from a ruptured coronary artery. It is no wonder that my call to others to learn about their broken health stories met with remarkable responses.

Every patient’s story, whether it be through the admission report, the clinical medical chart, or the arc of an entire life history, translates into a valued healing narrative. The poems and stories presented in this anthology are all written from the heart. They are about losses and they are also about gains. What patients and doctors continue to understand is the power of telling and listening to personal stories.

This anthology includes thematic re­flections on death, diagnoses, fears, humor, joy and transforma­tion—both physical and spiritual. These writers all succeed in telling their story, sharing their brokenness, discovering healing metaphors, and—at unexpected moments—offering grace and renewal.

James Borton teaches in the English Department at Coastal Carolina University and is a faculty associate at the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the University of South Carolina. He is also a past National Endowment Fellow at Yale University.

AOM Tear Sheet

 

Appearance and Reality February 28, 2012

Filed under: Stories — saratbaker @ 5:20 pm
Tags: , , , ,

A story is just what happens.  One thing after the other.

The day before Valentines Day, my friend Susie’s mom, Cessie, collapsed.  Susie’s voice on the phone, tremulous, “Do you have any time to come over?”  I went to find Cessie on the kitchen floor propped up against the fridge. The cold gray light of February fell over her. She gave me a wan smile, her brown eyes rueful.  Her color was pretty good.  I sat on the kitchen floor with her, eating oranges.  Then we managed to her her scooted on a towel to the living room, where she struggled mightily and finally was able to sit on the couch.  Susie was in turns, loving, playful, angry.  Who can blame her?  Cessie was brave and dignified, despite it all.  Despite being seen in all her vulnerability.

Then I went to physical therapy, where, as I waited, I saw a girl with heavy makeup scrolling through her iPhone, slumped in a chair, looking bored.  I gave her a sidelong glance–the usual clientel here is over 50.  I wondered at her make-up, so masklike-and tedious to apply, and heavy eyeliner seemed to be making a comeback. Why, I thought?  I’d never been able to master the stuff.  I realized I’d left home  without a swipe of powder or lipstick….oh well. I was called in for my treatment, and when it was over, I walked through a room where I saw the girl again, on her knees, fastening a young man’s prosthetic lower leg.  She finished, and lovingly smoothed his khakis and rose.  The two of them turned their beautiful smooth young faces to the exit.  He walked just fine, no one would have suspected his foot was missing.  They looked whole, young, insouciant.

Then I went to get Valentine cards.  I can’t stand for very long–something called orthostatic intolerance–and yet I did, growing fainter and fainter.  I finally scored a great card for my son, and an acceptable one for myhusband.  But while I was doing this, a young white woman wearing a red Kroger apron, read cards to a young black man with braided hair, chains, and carefully slouchy rapper clothes.  She questioned him gently on the kinds of sentiments he’d like.  He glanced around nervously, gestured with his hand, mumbled something I couldn’t hear.  She plucked a few more cards, “Okay, let’s try this,” she said, reading aloud the corny sentiments.    Then a large black man in a wheelchair rolled by, dressed all in red, including a red baseball cap and stopped to look for cards.  An older white woman, the pleasant kind of older woman no one notices, stood looking for cards.  She excused herself to walk around the black man, and began to talk with him about her husband, who was also in a wheelchair.  The two of them bantered, with loud peals of laughter coming from the man, the older woman  holding her middle and saying, “that’s so true, darling, you know.”   Finally she sayed, “Well, God bless you,” as he turned to leave, leaving him giggling.

And so it goes.  I thought about the assumptions we make about other people, and how they are almost always wrong.  I thought of Cessie’s dignity and Susie’s fortitude, and of how easily I had dismissed the fiercely casual young woman.  I though about the signals our presentation sends, whether heavy make-up or none, a gangsta outfit, or a bright red baseball cap, of how we put our armor on to step out into a hostile world, only to find, at least in the card aisle at Kroger  the day before Valentines–it isn’t that hostile at all.

 

Our Storied World June 17, 2009

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Here is a wonderful and true story: A friend of mine, a visual artist, until recently worked at a charitable organization that was slowly dying due to the recession. My friend, let us call her Z., worked mostly with the Hispanic p0pulation, trying to help them navigate various social agencies, food banks, legal aid agencies. I’d often dropped by to visit her, and find her with a child on her lap, speaking to the mother in fluent Spanish, or helping a troubled teenage boy calm down by doing collages with him. Even as the agency’s funds dried up, my friend, who has no margin for error in her own slim finances, would often open her own wallet and give what little she had. She didn’t do it every time, but if she felt the person’s plight was truly awful, she explained that she did it to live with herself.

One day a young man wandered in. He’d had to drop out of school, he had no money, hadn’t eaten in a while, and couldn’t find a job, although he’d been looking. My friend gave what information she could, but she noticed a certain dullness in his eyes and recognized it for what it was–the dying of hope. She opened her wallet and gave him a twenty and he thanked her and left.

Not long afterwards, Z. was laid off from the organization. She went into a funk, hibernated and licked her wounds, then turned to the thing she knew would help her find her way. She got her paintings down from the attic, began to look at them again, began doing some new work. In the spaciousness of the her new days, she found herself making art. She’d applied for jobs, but none came through. Still, it wasn’t as if she had nothing….she began to slowly envision her self as a working artist. It was as if the Universe had conspired to get her back to her true work.

Still, one has to eat. She was downtown one afternoon and poked her head into a little Italian restaurant. It was close to the end of lunch service, and she was the only one in the restaurant. A young man came over to take her order. They looked at each other and she recognized the young man she’d given a twenty to. He said, “I know you,” and she smiled and acknowledged it, not wanting to embarrass him by reminding him of how they had met. Far from it, the boy was eager to chat. The day she had given him the twenty, he had been at a low ebb. But he had gotten something to eat, then applied for this job at the restaurant and gotten it. She was delighted to know how the story had turned out; so many of the people she had helped simply disappeared.

She visits the young man often now, and the irony of their switched places isn’t lost on her. She’s become friends with the owner, who wants her to hang her paintings in the restaurant. “Was it random chance or something else that led me there?” she asks. At any rate, it was a fortunate and happy accident.

“The moment I heard my first story/I started looking for you…” Rumi writes. We are our stories. We not only understand our world through story, but we make our worlds through stories. We tell, we receive, we stand in amazement and awe at the gift of story. Our hearts wither for lack of good stories.

Dear reader, I wish you a storied world.

 

 
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