That is taken from one of our poems this week, “Thanksgiving, Visiting My Brother on the Ward” by Peter Schmitt. It is a complex and haunting poem about a “well” brother visiting his “unwell” psychotic brother in a psychiatric ward of a hospital. “If only he were faithful to himself/and took his daily pills…But what is the point/of such constancy when the world itself/has so profoundly turned away?
The opening writing prompt was to think about a “difficult patient” or a time within a health care encounter when the communication wasn’t going well, when the other person was ‘pushing your buttons’—and to write about that. We shared and discussed the resulting writing and did a bit of unpacking of the term “difficult patient.” We then read a rather light and wryly humorous short poem, “Overblown,” by Hal Sirowitz. One of our members reminded us astutely that something we might dismiss as easy to understand and ‘light’ might contain nuances of deeper meaning that we can easily miss. Another member asked what made this a poem to begin with—just the way it is written on the page? We then turned to a close reading of Peter Schmitt’s longer poem, written in a more traditional format of a poem. This led to a discussion of the nature of mental illness, especially of psychoses and the effects on the people directly suffering from them as well as friends and family members who care about them. The closing writing prompt was to take a particularly poignant line from one of the two poems and write from it.
I also shared some of my experiences and perceptions of attending and presenting at The Examined Life narrative medicine conference last week at the University of Iowa Carver School of Medicine. I heartily recommend it as a friendly, relatively interdisciplinary and not overly academic egghead conference. Great people. Don’t recommend the coffee. Some of us from the conference are beginning to plan a narrative advocacy conference to be held in Seattle, and our P&PR group this week came up with a partial title of “Doing It Differently.” We have good coffee here, as well as a unique mix of activists and writers and different sorts of health care providers (including CAM). So far we have begun to identify people such as Martin Donohoe, MD at Portland State to be part of the conference. If you don’t already know of his work, check him out at his Public Health and Social Justice website: http://phsj.org. So stay tuned for the conference, and if you have suggestions for people/speakers/topics, please send them my way.