In a week I will be returning to the warmth and the hospitality of Galveston, Texas, once again the guest of the University of Texas Medical Branch Institute of Medical Humanities. I have bought new sandals.
This time, two motivations. I will continue to write on Drawing Women’s Cancer, and I will take up again the kind offer from the Director of Anatomy to observe and draw in the human dissection classes. I mean to work on some drypoint plates – the cadavers lend themselves to inscription through the diamond which I hope will cut into the plate with a delicacy and a ‘tenderness’ that will do justice to the life that once was and the body that is. Spidery tendons and multiple layers of flesh and fat over bone. It is the subjectivity of experience that will occupy my mind and hand this time.
I am also pledged to teach on a Medical Humanities workshop to incoming medical students. I will adapt perhaps the workshop I gave in Glasgow. Here is a quote that I used then from a book that I found in the wonderful second hand bookstore in Glaveston on my last visit; a book that had a powerful impact on me. I used it that day in the city that claims a large part of my life and the lives of my children – who have grown strong and healthy. The quote is about a child who did not, and the suffering she left behind.
‘Senora’, he began, ‘I am sorry’. All at once he seemed to me shorter than he was, scarcely taller than she. There was a place at the crown of his head where the hair had grown thin. His lips were stones. He could hardly move them. The voice was dry, dusty. ‘No-one could have known. Some bad reaction to the medicine for sleeping. It poisoned her. High fever. She did not wake up.’ The last, a whisper.
The woman studied his lips as though she were deaf. He tried, but could not control a twitching at the corner of his mouth. He raised a thumb and forefinger to press something back into his eyes.
‘Muerte,’ the woman announced to herself. Her eyes were human, deadly.
‘Si, muerte’. At that moment he was like someone cast, still alive, as an effigy for his own tomb. He closed his eyes. Nor did he open them until he felt the touch of the woman’s hand on his arm, a touch from which he did not withdraw.
(Selzer, Richard, 1996 (1982), Letters to a Young Doctor, New York:Harvest Brace)
Suffering comes in many forms including the anguish that pervades so many aspects in between life and death. The image here is one I came across again recently. I made it for “sometimes I bleed…” an article I wrote some time ago for the Journal for War and Culture Studies (Volume 4 Issue 1 (01 June 2011), pp. 127-139. It was a piece of ‘academic’ writing that nevertheless interrelated word image and subjectivity in a way that I still aspire towards.