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Thursday Complexity PostJuly 18, 2013
Into the Same Space as Death... With Grace...

Empathy and generosity of spirit take a battering in the exigencies of medical training, physician Danielle Ofri writes, and doctors and nurses have to learn to face  the hard realities of death, dying and dead bodies with skill, grace and compassion. 


"Where do we gain the fortitude to step into the same space as death and negotiate the unnerving complexities that eddy between our breaths?" she asks in a Slate magazine essay. "It's not the type of thing you can Google."


Dr. Ofri, who has researched the joys, fears, stresses and conflicting messages young doctors get when they enter the clinical world, is author of the book What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine. She is an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, has cared for patients at Bellevue Hospital and is the editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, which she says focuses on creative interpretations of medical challenges and vulnerabilities. Dr. Ofri believes patients and physicians need poetry and that in order to be wise caregivers, doctors and nurses need the creative skills people learn from studying the humanities. Sometimes, she observes, "it is the things we deem least practical that wield the most power."


Her Slate piece describes the work of Cuban American physician-poet Dr. Rafael Campo, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, who recently won the Hippocrates Open International Prize for Poetry and Medicine for his poem "Morbidity and Mortality Rounds." Accepting the prize, Dr. Campo wrote, "Through my poem - about a dying patient - I was able to address the power of empathy to combat the distance we almost reflexively adopt toward our patients and confront our own shortcomings." In his interview with Dr. Ofri, he said "A good poem engulfs us," and its brevity and urgency demand "full participation of another in order to achieve completeness, to attain full meaning. In this way, it is not so different from providing the best, most compassionate care to our patients."


Dr. Campo's prize winning poem begins:  


Forgive me, body before me, for this.

Forgive me for my bumbling hands, unschooled

in how to touch: I meant to understand

what fever was, not love. Forgive me... 


Read the full poem here.


The poetry of medicine  has been collected and taught at several schools. A University of Illinois School of Medicine page compares iambic pentameter to the heart beat.


William Carlos Williams is one famous physician-poet who wrote about life, love, joy, decline, death and his experiences in Paterson, New Jersey, where he lived and worked. Near the end of his lengthy poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower, are lines compressing an urgent need for the ephemeral power of poetry:


It is difficult

to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.



Remember PlexusCalls!


Friday, August 9, 2013 - 1-2 PM ET  
Register to receive your call-in number and pin:  
How Our Schools Can Inspire Emergence of Community Builders  
Guest: Ward Mailliard    

Ward Mailliard is one of the founders of the Mount Madonna Center in Watsonville,  CA, and a member of the executive board of the Mount Madonna School, which educates children from pre-school through high school. An educator for more than 25 years, Mailliard helped create the "Values in World Thought" curriculum, which includes taking students to interview government and non-government leaders in Washington DC and other countries. Read his complete bio.

Healthcare PlexusCalls 
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 1-2 PM ET  
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Robot + Cooperation Between Hospitals = Better Care for Stroke Patients  
Guest: Dean Gushee     

When someone has a stroke, time is of the essence. Faster diagnosis and immediate treatment can often reduce or eliminate the debilitating effects of a stroke. At Mason General Hospital, a community hospital in southwest Washington State, emergency-room physicians are board-certified in emergency medicine, and trained in stroke diagnosis and treatment. And thanks to St. Peter Hospital, twenty minutes away, there is now a neurologist in the room when needed 24/7, via two-way video and a remote telehealth robot. Dean Gushee, medical director for the emergency department and medical director for the hospital, will join the call to talk about the resources that provide better care for stroke patients-and the cultural changes that were needed to allow separate hospitals, with differing policies and practices, to learn to work together. Read his complete bio.


Visit the Plexus Institute Calendar for a detailed schedule of PlexusCalls, Healthcare PlexusCalls, Nursing Network PlexusCalls and other upcoming events from Plexus Institute and others.  


Audio from all PlexusCall series are available by searching the iTunes store for plexuscalls. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


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