Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dance, Seeing, and the Brain . . .

So it's been a while since my last post! I got sucked up into the vortex of the Central Nervous System sequence. It's been an eventful few weeks, so let's get started:

One of my favorite programs at the University of Michigan is the Medical Arts program.This is a grant funded program designed to expose medical students, residents and house officers to the arts in order to prompt reflection on how artistic principles may have clinical application. I attended the last event and a couple of interesting ideas came up. The program was entitled Random Dance and we got a chance to have dinner with the choreographer who talked to us about how he draws inspiration for his choreography from neuroscience. The circuitry and patterns of impulses in the brain provide frameworks for his movement patterns on stage, which I thought was fascinating (I should also add that it was only at the dinner that I discovered that he was also one of the choreographers for the Olympics in London this year!). He asked us what our relationship was to our bodies as medical people. Many people in the room confessed to being largely unconscious of what their bodies were doing. The preoccupation of the doctor is other people's bodies; it reminded me of a description I once heard of academics as people who have bodies for the sole purpose or transporting their heads! Instead, what happens, he suggested, if we think more dynamically of our bodies as (future) physicians. He asked us to conceive of the doctor-patient relationship as a dance. That means there is a rhythm of interaction, a give and take, as one leads and one follows and then a switch. The path to the healing may not then be a linear, jolted, plod to the truth, but a circuitous interchange that allows for the disease/issue to be encircled and approached from several angles. In this dance, there is a unity and vulnerability as each "dance partner" trusts the other when it is their turn to lead. An interesting metaphor for the doctor-patient relationship I thought . . .

Funnily enough, I happened to schedule a dramatic reading of the medically themed play Molly Sweeney during the last few weeks as well. This play follows the story of Molly Sweeney, a 40 year-old woman who was blind from the age of ten months. She receives an opportunity to undergo an operation to restore her sight and goes through with it. Unfortunately, everyone (especially her husband and her surgeon, who I played) underestimate the psychological impact of seeing for the first time at an advanced age. Just because you can now see, does not mean you understand what you see. Molly only recognized flowers by their scent and touch beforehand and was very nifty with her tactile skills. Now, the light and images, while exciting at some level were also confusing and intense. Ironically, she loses much of the independence she had before the operation. The play raised interesting questions about what it means to see and what decisions physicians make that seem obviously in the best interest of the patient, but may not be. We were working on the play while taking on the challenging Head and Neck sequence in class that dealt a great deal with brain function. I have found the brain absolutely intriguing; when the Neurology professor introduces the brain as the organ where thought, emotion and our identity is formed, how can you not be blown away?? Of course, that raises the specialty question again. If I pick a brain centered specialty, that would be narrowing the list down to three: Neurology, Psychiatry or Neurosurgery. I shadowed a Neurosurgeon, not long ago and found it very interesting. I was pleasantly surprised at how much patient contact she had in her practice; she was also one of only 9 African-American female neurosurgeons in the entire country! Neural function is something I can see myself exploring: Why does smell affect our emotions so powerfully? How does memory really work? Where are our thoughts? At the same time, I don't simply want to muse about these things; I want to be able to do something about the neurological condition. That's where the appeal of surgery comes in. And so the questioning continues . . . It's been a wonderful (and very challenging!) few weeks hanging out with the brain, in class, in a dance talk, and onstage.

Quick note: It looks like my posts this summer will be, in part, from Kenya! I will be traveling to Kenya from June 7th-July14th to do some Clinical Research (and meet two new nephews for the first time). I will miss my family here, but it will be great to see my mom, sister (in Montreal who I will see on the way) and my brother, who moved back to Kenya from New Zealand. Such is the widely scattered arrangement of my family! Looking forward to posting on life, art and medicine in Kenya!

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