Humanities in Healthcare

If you work in rehab, you have to be professional in demeanor and scientific in your thinking but you can’t be all science all the time.  Just like in Star Trek, Mister Spock could  never have been a very good physician because he lacked the humanity and compassion of Doctor McCoy.  It is that humanity that allows the connection between medical professionals and patients.  

Years ago, before our heart hospital was built, the cardiac rehab was housed on the 5th floor of the main hospital along with inpatient Physical Therapy, Respiratory Therapy, and the Pulmonary doctors.  We shared a reception area and the receptionist had a couple of framed posters that a drug rep had given her.  She liked those two posters so much that she had them framed and hung in the shared waiting room.

Each poster depicted a nature scene from a famous painting and had a snippet of poetry from a famous poet.  By coincidence, these two posters featured two of my all-time favorite poems.  One was Afternoon on a Hill by Edna St Vincent Millay, 

“I will be the gladdest thing / Under the sun!

I will touch a hundred flowers / And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds  / With quiet eyes,

Watch the wind bow down the grass / And the grass rise.”

The other snippet is the “Visitant passage” from William Wordsworth’s Prelude.

“Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze, 

a visitant that while it fans my cheek 

doth seem half conscious of the joy it brings 

from the green fields, and from yon azure sky.” 

I think the message that the drug company probably wanted  to convey with those passages was that their asthma medicines help people enjoy flowers and grass blowing on breezy hills more but I just love these poems for the nature imagery.  Reading those passages brings some relief when the walls of an inside job start to close in.

It was probably two of my McComb High School English teachers that turned me onto these poems.  If I remember correctly, one of Mrs. Sally Johnson’s favorite poets was Edna St. Vincent Millay and she taught Afternoon on a Hill sometime around 11th grade.  It was probably a year later that Mr. Mike Wimberly introduced me to Wordsworth’s Prelude.

Every time that I walked through that shared reception area on the 5th floor of the hospital, I admired those two posters and occasionally would chat with the receptionist about them.  Some time later, when she retired, the receptionist presented me with a gift of those two framed posters because she remembered how much I liked them.  Now they hang in my cardiac rehab room. Over the years that those posters have hung in my rehab, patients have often stopped and admired them, or else  they would pause to puzzle over why poetry would be hanging in a rehab.  Every time those posters give a patient pause they give me an opportunity to make a human connection with that person – and that sort of human connection is what makes really outstanding rehab outcomes possible.

My advice for anyone thinking about pursuing a medical or allied medical profession – pay attention in the science and medicine classes but don’t ignore the humanities classes!

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