Ron Lands has to be one of the most impressive (and modest) people I met in my M.F.A. program. So when I learned that Ron – who earned an M.D. well before he tackled the M.F.A. – was attending a two-day event on “The Examined Life: Writing and the Art of Medicine” at the University of Iowa’s Carver College at April’s end, I was eager to request a guest post. Ever generous, Ron agreed. Here’s his dispatch from the conference (you can learn more about this event, and check out the online archive, here).
“The Examined Life: Writing and the Art of Medicine”
University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine
April 28-April 30, 2010
by Ron Lands
Medicine and literature often share the same topics; life and death, suffering and loss and everything in between. As they have every year since 2006, medical students, physicians, nurses, patients, and caregivers convened in a city known for its great writers, to collaborate regarding the power of writing in making sense of these grand themes and to demonstrate that the practice of medicine is an interpretive work.
A cardiologist put a human face on illness by blending his profession with his hobbies, interpreting the patient’s heart pathology by ultrasound then photographing the person in their home and writing poetry about the experience. An English professor wrote a play based on her personal experience with cancer and an actor interpreted and performed this dramatic work. Academicians shared tools and techniques to empower other educators to exploit the power of writing to cause reflection and nurture empathy in their students. Researchers presented data hoping to identify a physiologic link between writing and stress reduction in caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. A literary scholar turned physician offered a powerful examination of metaphor in the language of pain. A leukemia patient and her hematologist shared their five-year journey from diagnosis to a durable and sustained remission, using essay, memoir and colored pencil sketches drawn during the trauma of her bone marrow transplant.
Flannery O’Connor, one of many great writers associated with Iowa City through the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, said, “I write to find out what I know.” “The Examined Life: Writing and the Art of Medicine,” further demonstrates the clarifying effect that reading, writing and reflection can bring to the chaos of illness for those who suffer and those who witness the suffering.
Ronald H. Lands teaches in the Department of Medicine at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus, where he practices and teaches Internal Medicine, Hematology and Palliative Care. His fiction has appeared in New Millennium Writings, descant, Washington Square, and many others. He has published essays from the intersection of writing and medicine in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Annals of Internal Medicine, Journal of the American Geriatric Society, and the Journal of Palliative Medicine. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.