Monday, November 2, 2009

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

In my medical anthropology course in undergrad, I read the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. It's a story about an epileptic Hmong girl and the narration of her story from worldviews of her parents and of her doctors.

Imagine my excitement when I learned she was giving a guest lecture at my med school earlier tonight! Of course I had RSVP'd like a month ago in advance. How could I miss the opportunity to meet the author of a book that captured the beginning of a shift within the medical profession? How could I miss an opportunity to hear what pearls of wisdom I may gain from this lecture, especially as I'm involved in the Hmong Health Education Program (HHEP) committee here? How could I, as a med student, not sit in on a lecture so relevant to cultural competency to aid me in better caring for a diverse patient population in the future (especially since cultural issues largely aren't discussed at length throughout medical training)?

It was a great lecture. She was more down-to-earth than I had envisioned. She discussed the conflict that could occur between two cultures due to mis-communication. Indeed, there is a medical culture that contains within it almost everything you'd expect of a culture - it has its own hierarchy, it's own rules, it's own language, it's own special clothes, it's own rituals, and it's own worldview. One thing she said that will stick in my mind is the idea of a Venn diagram of patient-physician communication. There is always overlap, however small. Sometimes the patient, sometimes the doctor, often both, must venture to the periphery of their circles into the area where the two circles overlap - to where there is common ground between patient and doctor. This overlap is (apparently) called the "lune," and we must seek it as both patients and doctors to promote maximal outcome.

Afterwards, I had the luck (and patience) to have her sign my book! Okay, I actually left my original copy back home in another state. But an M4 (incidentally the M4 who started the HHEP) gave me a free copy of her book for the signing, so now I have 2 books and one of them has her autograph!! She drew that Venn diagram in my book, reminding me to find the lune. I also got to take a picture with her. This must be the first time I was so close to a celebrity, lol.

Her work is well-known in medical anthropology and in the medical community. To think that a journalist would have such a profound effect on the way physicians, bioethicists, anthropologists, would view cultural differences and how those differences impact healthcare (Mirrorboy, if you read this take note, maybe one day you'll produce some work that'll be the beginning of a paradigm shift). Unfortunately, formal training in medicine concerning cultural differences is severely lagging, even today.
Now, for the other randomness in my life.

1. Apparently I'm no longer fit (I was never that in shape, but I was way more in shape 2-3 years ago). I judge my fitness by my cardio endurance, and right now I'm at under a mile on the treadmill. This won't do as I used to be able to run 2.5-3 mi. Then again I hate the treadmill as I usually can't run as long on treadmills as on ground (oddly enough). Anyway, exercising has now been bumped up into my top 5 priorities.

2. I participated in the disembowelment of the dead today. After 2 of my labmates left early, leaving just Jon and me in the lab, we decided to disembowel our cadaver so we could expose the posterior (back) abdominal cavity. We stumbled upon a whole new world! After we ripped, tore, and cleaned away the fascia (which one of my labmates describes as being "incredibly satisfying" - it is), we were able to expose the abdominal inferior vena cava (main vein going into the heart), the renal veins leading from the kidneys, and the kidneys themselves. There was definitely something satisfying and exciting as a result of this disembowelment (which, might not be a "true" disembowelment as we just moved all the intestines upward until they sat in the upper chest cavity).

3. It's creepily humorous in lab these days. In order to get at certain things to dissect, one must remove organs and place them all over the place. We had the left lung on our cadaver's face, his massive heart on his groin, his right lung next to his head, and his ribcage and calvaria (skullcap) near his ankles. Yeah . . . organs everywhere. The more one dissects, the less human the body becomes.

Okay, that's all for this episode of anatomy lab. My eyes can't seem to focus tonight, blah.


mrgagaa said...

How exciting to meet an author you admire! I would love to have the same experience if there were any authors coming around in the near future.

naturgesetz said...

It sounds a little gruesome, and a little disrespectful to the layman. I guess the humorous aspect you mention is necessary to deal with your and your labmates' own unease at those aspects. But it is certainly necessary. I certainly want any doctor who is treating me to know what it's like in there.

What a great thing for you to be able to meet Anne Fadiman.

Aaron said...

Haha. I met a few writers and its mindblowing to meet the people that you adore and admire hey! :)

I'm glad that you're back on here and I hope you're not too busy.

Pilgrim said...

It´s morning here and after reading yo, my coffee wants to get out the way it got in! :-) But these things have to be done! Propz Pilgrim

. said...

Hey there Aek, I've been catching up and reading up on your world. It still sounds so very interesting what you are experiencing in your studies. And congrats on meeting an author you really enjoy and having a great time seeing her in person and getting an autograph. I can only imagine how your schooling is with body parts just lying around in a lab. Sort of gross, but also sort of interesting how our body parts all fit together. Hope you're doing well. Have a great week!!

Anonymous said...

I know it's beyond inappropriate and would scare the bejeezus out of half your readers, but how great would it be to add some photos to these posts? I'm just picturing the lung draped over the poor soul's face.... oh well - as always another great post

Aek said...

mrgagaa: It was exciting! ^_^

naturgesetz: Yes, I admit it might sound disrespectful. But honestly, where else would one put all these organs when you have to get under all of them? We put them all back into the body at the end of the day, so the puzzle pieces all go back to where they're supposed to go. Though . . . the group across from me seem to have issues putting the breasts back in the proper orientation. Anyway, a bit of humor is necessary as otherwise we'd all suffer PTSD and that's no good.

Aaron: Nice! What do you mean by "back on here?" I haven't gone anywhere. >_>

Pilgrim: Hahaha. But you work with brains! This isn't much worse.

.: Yup yup, it's nice seeing how the organs fit back together when we put them back into the bodies at the end of the day.

goleftatthepark: Nope, can't have pics. Sorry. That would violate rules (HIPAA I think) that could get me expelled from med school. I may, however, be able to scrounge up a video of a dissection somewhere online . . . *goes to search YouTube*

Anonymous said...

If I can work my ass back up to 1000m a day, you sure as hell better be able to run 2.5 miles. >_< I'll come up there and ride behind you on a moped with a whip if that's what it takes. :P

Mike said...

I guess I never realized that the bodies in med classes were used for that long. I guess I thought it was like a 1 day deal, but wow, and um, that disturbs me, but I read on in fascination.