Friday, November 30, 2007

Silghtest Wisps of Hope

One of my students recently described patients who want to try stem cells now as “willing to invest in the slightest wisps of hope.” That volunteering scares those who love the risk-taking patients, as eloquently portrayed in His Brother’s Keeper: A Story from the Edge of Medicine by Jonathan Weiner. But in some sense, it’s the basis of ‘progress’ in medicine…the only way a new method can be established is by clinical trials, and without patients willing to risk them, none would occur.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Brain Damage Insights

Oliver Sachs’ new book about how music and the brain interact continues his usual mix of fascinating insights into medicine and graceful writing. At one point, he describes patients who suffer a stroke incapacitating their ‘left brain’ cognitive centers, only to suddenly become transcendent artists. The first thing I thought of was this: THE CRITIC, that brain obligato that insists nothing I write is any good, must be in the ‘left brain.’ How I wish she would shut up, and how beautifully I think I could write if she did. But I don’t really want to give up my ability to analyze either. I just want to be selective.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Moving your readers

I felt for some time that I could not really convey feelings. I left them out, and my readers were quick to aks, “and how did that make you feel?” Then I started saying how I had felt (or how my character had felt). But I made a new discovery recently. Deepest feeling can be conveyed with details. I just finished reading Three Dog Life, a memoir about a woman coming to terms with her husband’s severe brain damage from an accident. Evocative details of her life told the whole story and moved me to tears several times. Never did she say, “I was sad.” She must have decided to tell us how she felt, but not to say, ‘I felt sad.” She could tell us in what she did, how long she sat staring into her dog’s eyes, how many daytime naps she took.