Art of health

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The Art of Health

daya dissanayake

"The practice of clinical medicine with its daily judgements is both science and art....the art is not merely part of the 'medical humanities' but is integral to medicine as an applied science". Dr. John Saunders, Consultant Physician at Nevill Hall Hospital, Abergavenny (published in the Medical Humanities, British Medical Journal).

The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, organizes 'The Examined Life Conference on Writing, Humanities and the Art of Medicine.' "The program seeks to encourage healthcare professionals, medical educators, patients and their family members to define methods for incorporating writing and humanities into medical education, patient care, and/or professional development schemes."

Dr. Serena J. Fox, New York University School of Medicine, is also a poet. She uses her poetry collection 'Night Shift' in a Humanities program to explore aspects of poetry unique to writers from the scientific and medical communities, because "poems inspire empathy and they are essential to the teaching of medicine and care-giving." She organizes a workshop 'Medicine and Poetry; Read One, Write One, Teach One'. Her book 'Night Shift' spans fifteen years of encounters in urban emergency rooms and intensive care units.

George Estreich's 'The Shape of the Eye' is a prose memoir of his daughter's heart surgery and recovery. Writing as a healing modality is used now with patients traumatized by the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Our great playwright, writer and actor, Henry Jayasena wrote about his experience with cancer in his 'Bala Gilano', published both in Sinhala and English.

Then there is the 'Blogosphere', because a "Blog as a literary form encompasses the gamut of emotions, from pathos to anger, from humour to trivia....Physicians blog for myriad reasons: as therapy, as art, as critique of the medical-industrial complex".

"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." is the definition of Health, by the World Health Organization. There is a proposal that the term 'Spiritual' should also be added, because there is evidence that a person's physical well-being is linked to his emotional and spiritual wellbeing, and that the expressive arts can play a decisive role in promoting overall health.

That is what is promoted by the 'Weems Memorial Arts in Medicine' program by the University of Florida 'Arts into Medicine' at Shands Hospital. They have "hands-on arts projects for children and adults, colourful paintings and sculptures and diverse arts performances to assist in the healing process." 12 years ago in Brooklyn the organizers of a Parkinson's support group persuaded a professional dance troupe to give dance instructions to people with the disease. That is how Dance for PD (Parkinson's Disease) had spread.

The Arts Council of England had supported the development of a Charter for arts health and wellbeing, and in 2010 a national Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing was formed. They had realized the key role arts could play in healthcare. Community Cultural Development in Australia is a partnership between arts and health and wellbeing.

All this was known in the east for at least 5000 years. Chinese medicine sprang from a broad metaphysical base, as a part of their culture, and not as an isolated science. It is a comprehensive system of treatment, to alleviate ailments, balance mind and body, alter emotional states, augment restorative power, strengthen immunity.

The same could be said about Indian Healing systems. For they were true Healers, who treated a persons body and mind as one entity, not just scientists treating a particular isolated ailment in a part of the body.

When the physician holds the patients hand to check his pulse beat, he becomes one with the patient, both in body and mind. It is not only the pulse beat, but the texture and the warmth of the skin, the look in the patient's eyes, his breath, that would tell the physician a lot about his mental and physical condition. Then the physician would treat the patient as an individual, and he would never just treat the illness in isolation. That is why our indigenous medical system is an Art. Here medicine would only be about 25% of the cure. The rest would be the confidence the patient has in the treatment and the physician, the concern and good intentions of the physician and the strength of the patients own system. We find the Art of our medicine in our homes, as a mother would offer the medicine with both hands to her child and stroke his head as he drank it, wishing the medicine would heal him.

A well learned physician could diagnose almost any ailment, without resorting to the modern day investigation methods. But his diagnosis was always be accurate, because it was personal first hand investigation. There is no possibility of any human errors by a lab technician, or a software bug in the instrument, or the wrong sample being tested, the wrong report being sent to the patient. Diagnosis was never outsourced, probably nothing in our healthcare system was outsourced.

Gathering the herbs for the medicine, was an art, because the physician had to be a part of his environment, to identify the correct herb, growing in the correct place, and so is the preparation. He did not have to worry about sterile surroundings, purity of the ingredients, because his place would be always clean and hygienic. There would be no pollutants, and contamination. The indigenous physician did not have to worry about the quality, efficacy, and safety, because they had all been tested for over several thousand years. he did not have to worry about shelf life or the assay, because he would prepare the medicine for immediate use. He did not have to use innocent animals to test the safety of his medicine.

It is time we brought back the Art of healing into the modern healthcare system, incorporating the sensitive, humane, enlightened approach practiced by the ancient physicians.

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