Category Archives: Narrative Medicine Research

These blog posts explore prevalent findings about illness narratives, narrative medicine, and medical humanities.

Introspection at the Heart of Medicine

This blog post reflects on my artwork in conversation with others, and it is included in the Crossroads blog at The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine

My collage, I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

My collage, I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

As I examined histological slides, I was struck by the simple beauty of the human body on a microscopic level. These images—still silhouettes of chondrocytes in the hyaline cartilage of joints, scattered pyramidal cells in the cerebral cortex of the brain, pebble-like adipocytes of fat—were each works of art. And, I realized, they all exist within me.

7508213_orig

Khalil Harbie’s The Art of Anatomy

In The Art of Anatomy (shown here), Khalil Harbie also turns his gaze inward to realize the art of the human body on a macroscopic level. He seems fascinated in the musculature of the forearm— the bulk of the brachioradialis, the careful curvature of the flexor carpi radialis, even a hint of the flexor digitorum superficialis. His intricate shading brings to life the texture and dimensionality of the forearm within a planar space, illustrating the very structures that enable this sketch.

Introspection enables a new way of seeing oneself that permeates into how one views and interacts with the external world. Only with introspection, I posit, can we begin to connect with those around us and truly achieve empathy. The core skills of doctoring, of listening and adequately responding to the suffering of other human beings, depend on an understanding of the self.

The human body, and human life as whole, is aesthetic by nature. We are colorful, we are shapely, we are beautiful. Art is at the heart of scientific studies like histology and anatomy because, in essence, art is the heart of humanity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Narrative Medicine Research, Visualizing Illness

Excited for The Examined Life conference: Writing, Humanities, and the Art of Medicine

When I attended the WMU Medical Humanities Conference last fall, I heard about an upcoming conference called The Examined Life: Writing, Humanities, and the Art of Medicine. And now, I’m fortunate enough to not only be attending this conference but also be presenting about my childhood cancer narrative research!

The Examined Life conference explores “the links between the science of medicine and the art of writing.” This conference seems to align perfectly with my own dual interests in medicine and literature. I think that participating in this conference will help me to figure out how I can maintain and balance both passions throughout my career, and I’m looking forward to meeting others in these fields with their own insight and experience to share.

At the Examined Life conference just one week from now, I’ll be doing something a bit different. In writing my Honors English thesis over the course of this year, I realized just how crucial my methodology has been in shaping the adolescent cancer narratives that I wanted to analyze. As a result, rather than just presenting about my research, I’ll be leading a discussion forum this time. Specifically, we will be discussing the ethics inherent in my methodology and thoughts that may be sparked from encountering these narratives. I’m curious, nervous, and excited to see what comes out of this discussion. I believe that these conversations will give me a lot to think about as I look towards further developing my honors thesis.

Here’s the abstract for my discussion forum:

Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative

I’ve never been to Iowa! I’m excited.

2 Comments

Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research

3/24/14: The day I turned in my Honors English Thesis

To be honest, this is probably the most important thing that I’ve done in my life.

My Honors English thesis

I know it sounds dramatic, but I can’t help but think that it’s true. I’ve been excited about writing a thesis since coming to college. I had no idea what it would be about, but I loved the idea of turning my own thoughts into something new. My English teacher once told me that I was a seeker; I enjoy turning to literature for answers and embracing its ambiguity. And in many ways, that is what I’ve done in my Honors English thesis.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around just how much of myself I’ve devoted to this research. But in many ways, this thesis is the culminating creation of my entire undergraduate education here at Michigan and more. Volunteering with pediatric oncology patients in high school initially piqued my interest; now, I’ve become dedicated to hopefully getting involved in childhood cancer as a physician. I needed to do this research: for these individuals with cancer who have had such an impact on my life but also for me, as a way of making sense of these unfathomable lives.

These final days have also been a time for remembering how fortunate I am to have so many people in my life supporting me. A close friend willingly contributed an extra set of eyes and an additional brain towards the editing process. From front to back, my mom read my entire thesis for typos. My dad morally supported me in the final stretch, and even my brother helped me to perfect the images. It’s been humbling to watch my loved ones step aside from their lives and devote their time to my own project.

Throughout the process, I’ve said that all I wanted was to be able to turn my thesis in knowing that I did everything I could and that I personally am happy with it. By my own standards, I believe that I’ve successfully accomplished this goal, and I couldn’t be more content.

If nothing else, the fact that I found myself eager to write this blog post and excited to dive into John Green’s  The Fault in Our Stars to celebrate  says something to me. I know that in studying literature, I’ve truly been doing something I love.

6 Comments

Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research

“The Heart of Medicine”: Published in The Intima, A Journal of Narrative Medicine

This month, my artwork I Will Wear My Heart Upon My Sleeve was published on the front page of The Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine! Check it out here:

The Intima, I Will Wear My Heart Upon My Sleeve

2 Comments

Filed under Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research, Uncategorized

Autistic Strengths and Stereotypes, My First Publication

Two years after its conception, I have officially published a piece of my writing. After being lost in transition and undergoing a series of  revisions, my review about literature for children with autism, Autistic Strengths and Stereotypes, has been published in Disability Studies Quarterly.

It’s been exciting for me to go through the publication process, to take an ordinary paper that I wrote for an independent study and turn it into something more. From corresponding with editors to revising and proofreading, I’ve enjoyed learning about the inner workings of the publication process. It’s an honor to be included as an author in one of my favorite journals.

Check it out! I’d love to hear your thoughts about my review:

Autistic Strengths and Stereotypes | Paul | Disability Studies Quarterly.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary Narratives, Narrative Medicine Research

Sharing the Clinical Relevance of Narrative at the UM Pediatrics Research Symposium

Instead of numerical values and statistics, my poster shared the words and phrases of children with cancer.  Amidst colorful posters with tables and graphs, my poster was adorned with drawings by pediatric oncology patients, such as cancer as a half-angel, half-devil being.

The 24th Annual Pediatric Research Symposium at the University of Michigan struck me as an interesting opportunity to share my narrative research with clinical pediatricians. I just began delving deeper into these narratives through a literary lens, and I enjoyed the challenge of reframing and furthering my analysis of these narratives for a medical audience. What does narrative illuminate about the living experience of childhood cancer? How do children conceptualize cancer and make sense of their illness experiences? And how can these narratives of pediatric oncology patients inform those who care for them?

Writing this abstract required more than inverting the active tense valued by the humanities to the passive tense valued in scientific writing. Designing this poster forced me to distill the numerous conversations and narratives that I have collected into a direct, concise argument. It was an incredibly helpful, albeit challenging, process.

From nearby poster presenters to practicing pediatric oncologists and more, it was interesting to discuss my research with a broad range of people and receive different feedback. One conversation in particular really resonated with me. A neighboring poster presenter asked me about my work, then confessed that she worked with pediatric oncology patients as a social worker for years. She said that it was a difficult and challenging position, one that ultimately surged her into depression because it was too much. To be able to work so intimately with these children, she said, “you need some kind of ‘distance.'”

This “distance” intrigues me. As we discussed this further, she explained that social workers preoccupy themselves primarily with the patients and families facing death, the ones struggling most with the interruptions of cancer. Physicians, on the other hand, have the chance to experience the broad range of paths that patients follow with cancer. The successful treatments, the ineffective drug regimens. This spectrum of outcomes helps give physicians perspective, but social workers by nature are honed in on the more despondent stories.

Is “distance” necessary for the emotional challenges of pediatric oncology? And if it is, what exactly does this imply about the impact of these childhood cancer narratives?  I wonder, how might these narratives complicate and possibly challenge this notion of ‘distance’?

Leave a comment

Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research

Contributing and Collaborating at the WMU Medical Humanities Conference

The people who I met, the conversations that we had, the ideas and passions that were exchanged and explored. These are the aspects that I enjoyed most at the Third Annual WMU Medical Humanities Conference, the things that I was most looking forward to and that I hope to experience at more conferences in the future.

I have to say, I think that this was one of my best presentations about my research. I’ve realized that I perform best as a speaker when I speak freely. The presentations that preceded mine throughout the day were inspiring. I felt my passion for my research empower me, and I was able to overcome anxiety with enthusiasm about my findings. The response to my presentation was overwhelmingly supportive and encouraging; some scholars were eager to share my project with students, others inviting me to stay in touch and explore their graduate programs. As the only student presenting, it was truly an honor to participate and I was fortunate to have such a great, interactive audience. 

The entire conference was an adventure. From the woman who sat next to me on the shuttle bus to the Founding Dean of Western Michigan University’s Medical School, I had the opportunity to meet a variety of people. People had travelled from across the nation and as far as England to present and participate in this conference, to share the projects they were passionate about and to learn about the passions of others. With this interdisciplinary field, there was an interesting assortment of people: humanities and social science scholars, clinicians, educators, and many overlaps amongst these. Each presentation offered new insight about different facets of Medical Humanities, and the discussions that unravelled afterwards were equally engaging and thought-provoking. Being physically in the presence of Medical Humanities people  helped me to better understand this field, and I’ll be incorporating some of my new thoughts from the conference in blog posts to come.

Here’s my WMU Medical Humanities Presentation: I wrote out notes in preparation, but they were by no means memorized. For those who would like to share my research with other students, I am honored. I really appreciate the support and enthusiasm!

Leave a comment

Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research