Short for infertility, a disease resulting in the abnormal functioning of the male or female reproductive system. There are many causes, some known and many unknown. It is often merely a matter of chance, a condition that arises with little explanation.
I have to confess that I had not thought all that much about infertility as an illness until I encountered ART of Infertility, a “an infertility artwork, oral history and portraiture project.” This art exhibit is a compilation of infertility stories expressed through various artistic media, by a diverse range of women who have experienced or are experiencing infertility.
I’ve been struggling to write about this exhibit for months now, but nothing I say seems to do it justice. I guess I just want to say that this exhibit moved me in inexplicable ways. The stories that these women share, the art that they use to express their own inexplicable emotions were incredibly powerful. Their words, their symbols, the hues and textures and things were all used to convey the spectrum of ways that infertility touched each of their lives and their selves.
The ART of Infertility prompted me to realize just how many potential triggers exist in our society for those who are infertile. As a society, we make so many assumptions about how those who are married will have children (or, side note, even those who are not married, for family planning comes up in many professional development discussions with women in medicine it seems). It reminded me of how intimately femininity is often intertwined with the ability to bear children. While this is not always the case, it’s one thing to make the decision not to have children; it’s another thing all together to not have the ability to make that choice.
For those with infertility, the constant reminders of one’s infertility may seem ever-present. Menstruation may be a monthly reminder, a taunt about the body’s reproductive shortcomings. Those struggling with infertility may be surrounded by constant reminders as their peers procreate without problem. There are so many challenges to one’s self that can be inflicted by infertility, challenges that are best told by those who experience it themselves.
I guess infertility is another illness that urges me to wonder how we as a society, as strangers, friends, and family to those invisibly suffering, can cultivate a more sensitive environment. Can we open our minds to the variety of ways that people choose to live their lives and the many aspects that may lie outside of their control? Is it possible for us to cultivate a culture of sensitivity that reconciles the course of majorities with the various paths taken by everyone else? How do we escape the limitations of assumptions and make space for human diversity?
“There is art to medicine as well as science.” -Hippocratic Oath
I find myself thinking about this quote a lot throughout medical school. It reminds me of what initially fascinated me about medicine. While following the pre-medical track lends itself to a scientific foundation for medicine, my non-traditional experiences illuminated the art of medicine to me.
Last year, I found my place at The Examined Life: Writing, Humanities, and the Art of Medicine conference. I was excited to be surrounded by so many other people interested and actively working at the intersections of literature and medicine. These are people who are passionate about all things related to healing and medicine, reading and writing, learning and educating. And I am thrilled to have the opportunity to attend this conference once again, one week from today.
Last year, around this time, I was teaching a mini-course called Grand Rounds: Exploring the Literary Symptoms of Illness through Narrative. This year, I will be leading a discussion forum about this course and about what implications it may have for the use of illness narratives in pre-health education. As I’ve been preparing for our session and sifting through course materials and relevant scholarship, I’m reminded of how much I miss teaching. It won’t be quite the same as leading one of my discussion classes, but I’m really looking forward to the conversations to come.
Learning about autism in an English class was one of my early experiences with the intersection of literature and medicine. This week, it was especially challenging to condense a semester’s worth of studying autism and disability studies into a 1.5 hour class period. Nevertheless, I do think that it was one of the most enlightening class discussions thus far.
There seemed to be something different about our discussion this week. Autism seemed much more relatable, and more students evoked personal experiences with autistic relatives and friends. A number of students expressed feeling that there was much more to explore about autism, and they have decided to delve deeper into autism for their final projects (which I will discuss more in a future post).
This week, I was also observed by an advisor from the Honors College. I told my students that my goal was to get her to participate in our discussion, and I’m happy to say that we were successful! The class was very engaged; there were a number of moments where multiple students had their hands up, eager to participate.
When class was over, I left the room with a refreshed appreciation for this teaching opportunity. Each of the students (and my advisor) left with a new perspective on autism. In a world where everyone is touched by disability and/or illness in some way, I continue to believe that this kind of awareness is absolutely essential.
The course that I am teaching next semester, Grand Rounds: Exploring the Literary Symptoms of Illness through Narrative, has now been posted. First year undergraduate students at the University of Michigan will be able to start registering for it within the next few weeks.
I’m excited that this is happening. I’m really looking forward to sharing my interests in illness narratives with other students and learning from their own insights and revelations as well.
Healing is an intimate process, both for those being healed and for their healers. I choreographed this dance to the song Fix You by Coldplay to commemorate the intricacies of the healing process, particularly for those surrounding the sufferer. Illness may isolate the self, but it can often unite others.
From family and friends, physicians and nurses, therapists and chaplains, there are numerous individuals who dedicate themselves to this cause: to “try[ing] to fix you.” This performance honors these individuals, recognizing their independent contributions. It illuminates the parallels across these different efforts, revealing how these different methods of healing are in fact synchronized. Similar motions are performed with unique takes by each dancer and each healer. Reducing pain with Oxycodone, alleviating emotional unraveling through art. Finding solace in spirituality.
Healing is a collective effort, just as dancing; collaboration demands a conversation of sorts that is embodied here in movement. Each must share their insight and showcase their strengths while recognizing what to forfeit in favor of healing the mind, the body, and the total self. Considering the nutritional imbalances imposed by antidepressants, the psychological side effects of surgical disfigurement. The limitations to restoring normalcy.
There is dynamism to healing. There are trying times and moments of liberation, symbolized by movements high and low. There are bursts of chaos and body rolls, unexpected outcomes and relapses, but there are also breaths of peace demonstrated by graceful releases of the body and sustained poses. Recoveries.
This choreography and its performance demonstrate that healing vitalizes all involved, as it “ignite[s] your bones.”
140 characters has never sounded like enough to me.
But for Scott Simon, Twitter has become a concise space for reflection and reverence of his mother’s last hours in the ICU.
When I first heard about this spectacle, I was slightly appalled about the idea of invading the intimate and private space of the ICU with social media. But this article approached these tweets from a different perspective, suggesting instead that this embodies a more modern form of mourning. “The brevity and sequentiality of Twitter eerily evokes the reality of time, allowing us to witness an event” (O’Rourke).
As fascinating as this correlation between time and social media is, I believe that this statement is more eery to me than what it proposes. Perhaps it is my personal aversion from Twitter, but I disagree: Twitter may give us a peek, but it does not enable our entire observation.
These tweets do not allow us to observe her death and its surroundings. We do not hear her breaths cease while the ICU continues to beep. We do not watch stillness set in.
What I found to be unsettling was not the tweets themselves but rather the act of tweeting. It seems as though Twitter served as an outlet and a means of communication for Simon during his mother’s time in the ICU, a coping mechanism of sorts. I respect Simon’s choice to share his ICU experiences through Twitter. But even in 30 minutes after his mother’s death, Simon sent 3 tweets. Which means that he spent some time, maybe just a minute or so, looking at a screen and typing rather than being totally present with the loved ones around him.
It is inevitable that social media has become a space to share not only the joys and triumphs of life but also its trials and fumblings. But I wonder if this is the inherent trap to social media that we must recognize- it can become an obligation to others that draws us from the people physically around us. And with all the publicity that this happening has attracted, I was surprised to see how much of the attention has been centered around Scott Simon.
I guess I just wish that at the moment of her death, there had been more attention drawn to the person at the center of these tweets: his mother, Patricia Lyon Simon Newman.