At Wellcome Collection we’re interested in the intersection between medicine and art: the inspiration that science gives artists, and the insight and understanding that sometimes only art can offer in return. On the Wellcome Collection website, this mostly comes in the form of the visual arts: objects, images and film. We’ve been wondering recently how we might better include words, from poetry to autobiography (Fanny Burney’s account of her own mastectomy, for instance, must be the equal of any gory illustration in conveying the terrors of surgery before anaesthetic) in the mix.
So we were intrigued when Canadian publication Ars Medica turned up in the mail. Billing itself as ‘a journal of medicine, arts and the humanities’, it includes memoir, fiction and poetry on medical themes. In the latest issue, Allan Jones’ diary of his sight-loss (recorded on cassette tapes) is an account of dealing with retinitis pigmentosa and attempting to navigate and negotiate an increasingly ghostly world: the emphasis on the visual in the world of a man going blind is both eerie and intriguing. Devon Miller-Duggan’s Migraine Sestina is witty and moving (the sestina is a medieval poetic form guaranteed to give anyone trying to write one a headache); and David Schleifer’s How to Be Allergic to Everything details the pains of being a New Yorker with food allergies in a city so devoted to food:
The gourmet derides most foods as trash because someone taught him to regard a select few as desirable. When you become allergic to everything, discernment will be a matter of survival.
If you’ve written on a medical theme yourself, you might be interested in sending Ars Medica something: they’re always looking for submissions. If you manage to lay your hands on one, it’s well worth a read. And if you have any suggestions for how we might integrate these kind of texts into our own website, we’d love to hear your ideas.