Response Paper #1:  Creative Encounters Heal Both Patient and Practitioner

                        One of the first things that really grabbed me in this class and refused to let go was the image of Patrice Repar, director of the Arts-in-Medicine (AIM) program at University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH), singing to a patient.  In the Arts-in-Medicine video produced by Ben Daitz, M.D., we were priviledged to witness a creative encounter between a patient and a practitioner of AIM.  He had difficulty speaking and moving the left side of his body, and he appeared to be in great pain.  However, once Patrice started singing such a wave of peace seemed to take over his whole being and one could see him relax and enjoy the beauty of the music. 
            I saw this and was moved to tears; however, when the camera focused on Patrice and the peace on HER face as she sang, I had a moment of revelation.  THIS is the type of doctor I want to be someday.  Not just a doctor who is willing to share of her time, knowledge, and experience, but of her very self.  One of the questions I was encouraged over and over to truthfully examine as I prepared for medical school admissions interviews was “why do you want to become a physician?”  “Because I want to help people” is not good enough; trite, formulaic, and impersonal, it gives the admissions committee no insight as to what drives YOU to dedicate your life to medicine.  I had struggled with this question for almost two years leading up to my med school interviews.  I finally came to realize that I am the type of person who NEEDS to be of service to others; I just don’t feel whole or complete unless I can feel that I am part of the bigger picture.  I need to experience meaningful exchanges with the rest of humanity.
            Of course, once I articulated this to others I was immediately besieged by negative comments from well-meaning people who didn’t understand exactly what a meaningful exchange involves.  Hearing these doubts triggered my own self-doubt:  can I bear to medically minister to a patient without being overwhelmed with grief when I can’t work miracles?  In fact, one of the “hits” of a med school interview was when the interviewer asked me what I thought the most difficult part of med school or being a doctor would be.  I told him it would be dealing with the frustration of trying to heal a patient when there was only so much that I could do, whether due to the patient’s lack of cooperation with the treatment plan or the limitations of medical technology.  He emphatically agreed and, in fact, went off on a tangent explaining the truth of that statement, giving examples of his own experiences with that very frustration.  I knew at that moment that I had “discovered” one of the unpleasant truths of medicine—that as you share yourself with your patients in the process of healing, you run the risk of hurting yourself. 
            I realized also that this was one of the reasons why the impersonal, detatched model of a physician is so often stressed.  Professionalism or bioethics, of course comes into play here; one must be careful at all times to respect the patient as a person.  As Chris explained in his first response paper, care must be taken not to place one’s own personal needs or expectations upon the patient, and one of the most basic ways of ensuring this is to maintain that mythical fine line, the “doctor-patient boundary”.  I kept coming back to the question, however:  would I be able to give myself in service to others without becoming burnt out or disillusioned?  How could I possibly give of myself in the process of healing when I’m not allowed to expect anything in return from my patients?  How will I be able to recharge my emotional batteries?  I struggled with this to the point that I actually contemplated abandoning my goal of becoming a doctor.
            However, after viewing the video in class, I had an epiphany.  Creative encounters, as espoused by the whole concept of Arts-in-Medicine, has the power to rejuvenate both patient and practitioner.  May describes creativity in Nature of Creativity as “the process of bringing something new into being.”  This “something”, whether it be that brief emotional connection a doctor can make with a patient by telling gentle jokes to make a person laugh, or by singing to a patient, or by facilitating a patient’s expression of his pain through art therapy, can be experienced by all participants, both active and passive.  Observing a patient come to grips with his pain through participation in an artistic “event” can, in many ways, be just as cathartic as spending a couple of hours on a psychologist’s couch.  It is a reminder that both patient and practitioner are, after all and before anything else, people.  Not symptoms, not cases, not advanced professional degrees, but people.  In The Arts in Spiritual Care, Bailey states: “…the arts can build bridges to persons of diverse backgrounds.”  Being able to share a creative encounter with a patient allows a practitioner to paradoxically bridge the divide of the “doctor-patient boundary” while at the same time respecting the patient’s personhood enough to maintain it.  By this seemingly conflicting statement, I mean that creative encounters in  medicine allow a patient and a doctor to share a connectivity through the arts that they may not be able to in a more traditional, interpersonal manner.  May describes Adler’s compensatory theory of creativity as such: “—that human beings produce art, science, and other aspects of culture to compensate for their own inadequacies.”  I choose to put a different spin on this concept.  Creativity and creative encounters can be used to create interpersonal connections in situations where it is important to maintain a professional detachment but it is also vital to forge a connection between people. 
            In meditating on the concept of AIM, my mind went back to the countless nights I spent staying up with a sick child.  While all the medicines acted like “magic potions”, affecting my child’s biochemical pathways in some alchemic fashion, the real comfort came from me rocking my child to sleep, singing lullabies.  The act of singing lullabies not only comforted my child, but also gave me a sense of power and control over a seemingly uncontrollable situation.  I could not control whether or not the antibiotics I administered would really clear up the infection, but the healing energies that I created with my touch and my voice was something I COULD control.  And it alleviated the sense of helplessness I felt whenever my children got sick.  I can’t take it away, but I can make it better.  And I could make it better for both my child and myself. 
            I am proud to play a role, however small, in UNM’s AIM program.  In my view, this organization is one of the pioneers in using art and creativity as part of a holistic approach to healing.  As a matter of fact, my first awareness of UNMHSC’s commitment to arts and healing came from reading The Medical Muse, a periodical put out by the medical school as a creative outlet for practitioners.  Reading about how people who are where I want to be and how they deal with the emotional conflicts that are inherent to the job was an eye-opener.  These practitioners bravely expressed and exposed themselves in their art.  In doing so, they also brought healing to the passive observer, although they may never know how much their creations impacted other people. 

 

 

Bibliography
Arts-in-Medicine video; Ben Daitz, M.D., producer

May, R.  The Courage to Create (publication information unknown)

Bailey, S.  The Arts in Spiritual Care, Seminars in Oncology Nursing, Vol. 13, No. 4, 1997:  pp 242-247.

**I’m sorry, I didn’t know how to cite these, but I did draw from them for my paper.

Response Paper #1, Chris, Biochemistry Major

The Medical Muse, published by UNMHSC