On health and well-being

Professor Martin Paul Eve of Birkbeck College, University of London writes today in the Times Higher Education Supplement about suffering a stroke in his twenties. You can read  ‘Coping with Illness’ here.

I’ve been working with medics and healthcare professionals as part of my 2016 creative residency in Queensland, Australia. I use Martin’s story as part of my workshops. It reminds practitioners that healthcare is about people as well as processes, and highlights how culture and access to information shape our experience of health and wellbeing.

When health organisations seek to deliver targeted community interventions, develop inclusive health systems, or improve their relationships with the populations they serve, there are overlaps with my field of creative work and community engagement.

My fascination with community healthcare goes back to covering Presbyterian Hospital’s Reach Out and Read scheme in New York City some years ago. I’ve spoken elsewhere on how events like coffee cup short stories, zombie battles, and library burlesque came about by listening to the needs, desires, and capacity of a given community, and how programmes like Fun Palaces stem directly from local people’s own plans, schemes, and resources.

When it comes to health and well-being, organisations have a similar opportunity to listen and respond creatively to their community.

That might be using the medium of comics for two-way conversations between patient and practitioner, or exploring how managed risk-taking opportunities for teens – like zombie battles! – might have long-term health benefits, or understanding how freedom of access to information affects our treatment in times of severe illness.

Above all, it’s about recognising that experiences of illness, injury, and disability are about people, not processes.

A slide from a healthcare professionals' workshop in Brisbane - we are people as well as patients

When I talk to medics about this, I mention losing a dear friend to illness in early 2012. At the time I was reading a book from his shelves, Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter. In that book, which won the US National Book Award in 1994, Nuland offers case studies of the most common death-causing diseases in the USA.

He argues that doctors treating people approaching the end of life can get too focussed on fixing the next thing that goes wrong with a patient’s body, instead of attending to the whole human being and considering their quality of life.

Nuland’s book is over twenty years old now, and I’m no medic, but when I mention this argument to healthcare practitioners, they tend to ruefully acknowledge that things haven’t changed that much.

There’s so much opportunity to explore this terrain – call it “applied medical humanities”, after the academic discipline which has gradually grown up around some medical schools – and to generate creative ideas which can be submitted to the evidence-based testing which underpins great healthcare.

Martin Paul Eve’s latest piece on his health experiences and their impact on his research is up today, his birthday, over at the Times Higher Education Supplement. Go check them out, and you can even wish him a happy birthday if you like. After all, we’re people as well as patients.

 

 

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