Over the weekend, I celebrated a birthday, sanded and varnished my 40 year-old sailboat and mused about medical weblogs. It was nearly two years ago when I underwent a triple bypass at Columbia’s Heart Hospital, located in South Carolina. Ever since awakening from my coma, I have been retelling my heart event. I recognize that medicine and storytelling go hand in hand. As a patient in ICU for over three weeks, my illness narrative has been slowly evolving.
Blogging has enabled me to understand how an illness narrative requires different storylines, novel metaphors and disclosed truths.
In this new era of participatory healthcare, the blogosphere has seen an explosion of medical bloggers, patient community sites and medical wikis. For that matter, there are even websites, like webicina, that offer Medical Web 2.0 step-by-step guidance in setting up a medical blog.
Although Medgadget offers annual awards in ‘Best Literary Medical Weblogs, I have yet to understand the meaning of this phrase, literary medical bloggers. Subsequently, I established e-mail communication with Brian T. Maurer, a Physician Assistant for three decades, who blogs and writes about what he calls the “soul in medicine.”
He persuasively and purposefully wrote, “ Decades ago I got interested in the idea of using story as a vehicle to explore the doctor-patient relationship. Throughout my medical training (I am a practicing physician assistant) I was appalled at the insensitivity which many clinicians demonstrated in dealing with patients in their time of suffering. I struggled to understand the source of this coarseness in bedside manner. Had these clinicians always acted this way, or through years of training had their medical education squelched whatever empathy they might have once had? Was this perhaps a defense mechanism they had developed over time to shield themselves from the suffering that they witnessed daily in practice? If so, what could be done about it? (It certainly wasn’t helping the patient to heal.) Could empathy be taught, or was it an innate trait possessed by only a minority of individuals who opted for a career in medicine?”
As a dedicated Medical Humanities writer, Mr. Maurer has explored the illness narrative as a tool to enhance the education of medical students and cultivate an appreciation for the delivery of humane medical care. His first book, Patients Are a Virtue, is a collection of fifty-seven patient stories.
He has revealed to me in a recent e-mail his definition of a literary medical weblog.
“ My hope has always been that with ongoing exposure to these sorts of narratives, more and more medical colleagues might come round to recognizing just how intimate and profound the doctor-patient relationship truly is, and come to an understanding that there is much more to the art of healing than just closing a surgical incision, dressing a wound or writing a prescription.”
Maurer has also served on the editorial board of two online open-access journals dedicated to promoting the medical humanities and humane medical practice: Dermanities and Cell2Soul. He currently serves as section editor for Humane Medicine in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.
Mr. Maurer has published numerous vignettes, editorials and essays in both national and international journals, and writes a monthly column, “Notes from a Healer,” for The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine.
His “Marginal Notes” column appears regularly in the pages of the Cell2Soul Blog.
His poignant e-mail to me included the educational and therapeutic benefits associated with the development of literary medical weblogs.
“My hope has always been that with ongoing exposure to these sorts of narratives, more and more medical colleagues might come round to recognizing just how intimate and profound the doctor-patient relationship truly is, and come to an understanding that there is much more to the art of healing than just closing a surgical incision, dressing a wound or writing a prescription. Medical practice is after all the stuff of life; and because literature historically has been an attempt to capture the essence of what it means to be alive, it is small wonder that the two complement each other so beautifully.”