Pathic Touch and Poetry

Last year I read an article about a general practitioner who utilised poetry in his practice. It was a means for him to connect with patients, and also acted as an avenue for him to process his work, to understand the meaning and value of his job as a doctor. The intersection between art and medicine interests me greatly, and recently I’ve been developing my ideas on the ‘poetic gaze’ and it’s importance for healthcare professionals.

Poetry involves capturing details and navigating the labyrinths of life. Poetry is passion, emotional intensity, flowing liveliness. It reflects inner desires, mysteries, dreams and fictions.

Sakine Cansiz

I speak of poetry in the broadest terms. Not the pedagogical canon that we were fed during secondary school, rather any articulation of ‘feeling’ of something indescribable. Poetry in my opinion is subjective; it can be found in Shakespeare’s sonnets, a critically acclaimed film or in the annals of teen magazines. It is everywhere, and becomes poetry when it moves you, having articulated clouds of feeling that were previously effluent. This is poetry, a part of being human in our constant search for truth and understanding.

poetry as illumination, for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are, until the poem, nameless and formless-about to be birthed, but already felt.

Audre Lorde

Poetry is humanistic and, as described in the Harvard article, this quality of ‘light’ can enhance and humanise medical practice. The quashing of medical students’ spirits which occurs as they progress through their careers, profoundly worries me. I think that it is wonderful that such human beings exist who want to serve communities, improve the qualities of life of strangers at the expense of grinding nights in libraries and never ending exams. By and large the intention is good. Yet something happens whereby that spark tends to extinguishment during the course of a Medic’s career. Pressures indirectly afflicted from a bureaucratic system heavily influenced by the Medical-Industrial Complex which alienates the health workers from the fruits of their labour… perhaps- at least I this is my current understanding.

The poetic gaze, poetic light, brings us back to the human sitting in front of us. Exposing oneself to poetry allows us to understand a broader range of emotions, just as sitting an anatomy exam allows the physician to understand the biological make up of the body. Accumulating poetic experience allows a better informed analysis of the human condition in a different but equally important mechanism to scientific analysis- allowing the jigsaw puzzle of holistic care to become more manageable.

Perhaps there could also be some value in a slight rose tint provided by the poetic gaze. What springs to mind here is the concept of pathic touch. In a physical examination touch is used for diagnostic analysis ( gnostic touch). At the same time, the means by which you enter the intimate space of a patient is important, it is a two way relationship with the potential to convey care through intention, respect and sensitivity- this is pathic touch. I think this is quite poetic. Two human beings interacting, exchanging intimate information about their human condition ( physical and mental ). Perhaps the poetic gaze could have the ability to soften the hardness that comes with experience preserving the ability to see the messy beauty of the exchange of nonverbal cues inherent in every patient physician encounter, could go far. A slightly Romantic view may not be so detrimental?

I want to end this post… by qualifying the whole thing. These are all ideas bouncing around in my head. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my capacity to feel is something I hold dear to me and the prospect of entering a career pathway where that facet of myself could be suppressed or obliterated doesn’t sit well with me. Hence I’m trying to devise a framework to understand how to care for people in the best way- and to do that one must care for themselves. My ideas will change and I hope to keep you updated.

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