Literature is the Thing
June 2008, I took my family to visit a friend. We
were not the only visitors in the house of our
friend that day. The daughter of one of the visitors
took my camera from me and began taking lots of
photographs. She was 6 maybe 7 years old. When she
returned the camera to me, I was astonished at how
wonderful the photographs she had taken were. I did
not hesitate to commend her for a job well done. The
girl’s mother was very proud and said she had a very
strong feeling her daughter would become a
photographer. I was going to second that, but I kept
my mouth firmly shut when the girl’s father – a
Medical Doctor reprimanded his wife for mouthing
such an abomination. He asked his wife if she felt
their daughter was incapable of becoming a doctor or
actually shocked by the attitude of that medical
doctor in the year of our Lord 2008. Perhaps such
notable photographers as Herb Ritts, Patrick
Lichfield, , David la Chapelle, Anton Corbin, Martin
Parr, Nick Knight and the Nigerian photographers
from J A Green to Uche James Iroha have all been
Unfortunately, the same dim view taken by my doctor
friend about photographers is the same as was taken
about writers of literature across the world in the
past, and even today in Africa those attitudes
persist. The interesting thing though is that many
people who went all the way to study medicine are up
to their necks in creative writing these days.
Sometimes I wonder why many of the doctors even
bothered to finish their medical training.
chose to write about this because two of the authors
whose stories appear in this issue of Sentinel
Literary Quarterly are medical doctors namely
and Abayomi Zuma.
There were also at least three other medical doctors
whose poems and short fiction did not make it into
the publication this quarter alone. It got me
thinking. We have of course Ike Anya who is a
Consultant in Public Health very well known for his
creative writing and ArtVentures in the
literary world. Just to see for myself how far this
things has spread, I zoomed into the web with the
SLQ-Crawler to see if the only pandemic on our hands
is not Swine Flu. Men, Swine Flu! It will be Pooch
turns out that doctors are encroaching wildly into
our creative world like angry locusts. Believe it or
not, Dr Daniel Becker, a General Medicine
Practitioner has even gone a step further. Not only
is he a published poet himself, he has actually set
up an online publication to give doctors who want to
write, a heavily medicated outlet to do so in the
company of other medicine people. See Hospital
Drive: A Journal of Reflective Practice in Word and
don’t think it is fair. That the medicine men now
have a creative outlet of their own? No, hell no,
not that. I will share something with you. This is
Arts and Medical Blog”:
Here are seven
special reasons (ranked from most important to least
important) why doctors write:
- Physician heal thyself. Nothing promotes healing
like writing a poem or short story or even a single
glorious sentence. Writing helps a doctor get things
off their chest in a much more productive way than
yelling at a nurse, ranting at a patient, or being
grouchy at home. Poems and stories written as a form
of therapy are easy to spot. They have a
Doctoring is hard. Creative writing is an
opportunity for physicians to make sense of what
they do. Stories written for the purpose of
searching sometimes have themes that focus on
medical ethics and boundary issues.
- Doctors can pass along knowledge and
experience by writing in clever and vivid ways.
Humor and compassion provoke memorable moments in
literature. A perfect example is
The House of God by Samuel Shem.
- Writing is fun. Okay, maybe not always -
rewrites, editing, and the evil “writers’ block.” At
some level (the spark that begins the project or
reading the finished manuscript), there is euphoria.
Would you settle for glee?
- Writing allows physicians an opportunity to
memorialize patients and colleagues. These literary
works feature a fictionalized version of a character
or an amalgamation of a few people. Creative writing
can immortalize someone. P.S.: Doctor-narrators also
reap literary longevity.
6. Atonement -
Doctors make mistakes. They sometimes behave badly.
They have regrets. Stories and poems can be part of
their penance. Think “Brute”
by Richard Selzer.
Let’s not lie to ourselves. Who among us would not
want to be a rich and famous author? I don’t know
any doctors who would turn down a Pulitzer Prize,
National Book Award, or an appearance on The Oprah
Winfrey Show. Good luck with that.
See what I am talking
about? Does that not make you sick? I go see a
doctor with an ailment. He turns around and converts
me into a fictional character, merges me with
another patient so that I don’t get easily
recognisable, then if under his watch my feeding
tube is placed in my lungs instead of my stomach and
I die, he writes about this mistake as a kind of
atonement, immortalising me, making a tidy sum from
royalties, and then he darts off to buy himself a
castle deep in Scotland where he can hole up and
write more clever confessions.
But that is only the
downside. The upside is that there are more people
writing stories and poetry and filmscripts etc. That
is very good. I am secretly proud that medical
people are choosing creative writing rather than
perhaps gambling or ten-pin bowling. What does it
matter if they draw from the characters they treat
or come in contact with? That’s what those of us in
Creative Writing who are not in medicine do anyway.
To be totally honest, I look forward to a Medical
Doctor who would write great medical thrillers and
spill the dirt on what really really goes on in
hospitals - from the consulting room to the theatre.
Enjoy this issue and
spread the word about the SLQ.
30th April 2009