meditations on wellness

Happy finals week, everyone! Question: Can you still call yourself a blogger if you don't write for a full month? Asking for a friend.

As per usual, I've been super-busy this quarter, mostly because last year I panicked in the midst of my quarterly quarter-life crisis and overscheduled my classes for fall. On the plus side, I may graduate a lil early, so there's that.

By far one of my favorite classes this quarter (and one I should be writing an essay for right now) is "Literature and Medicine," which explores the ethics and experience of illness and interpersonal relationships within the context of medicine. I chose it because it fell under my Literature and the Mind specialization, but I didn't actually know what kind of discussion the class entailed. It's actually a very provocative class; it poses a number of moral dilemmas that you wouldn't really expect from a field that presumably values objectivity and clinical efficiency above all else. For example, is it ethical to lie to terminally ill patients about their condition if it reduces stress?

(Snippets of this post were stolen from my essays because I was just really, really passionate about the topics)

One of our main topics of discussion is the distinction between the worlds of love and efficiency, but also the acknowledgement that there are many instances in which the two are unavoidably intertwined: they overlap, they intersect, and they ultimately validate each other by existing as a paradox—you can't have one without the other. Although medicine is learned objectively and unsympathetically, its patrons are humans, and therefore humanity is a crucial consideration in practice. The concept of "health" is relative, and just as much a mental and emotional state as a physical one. It is at the intersection of pragmatic sensibility and emotional understanding, a kind of midway point between the two worlds. What is "best" for a person's health may not be what is best for him—clinical solutions are not one-size-fits-all, and adjustment and compromise are necessary in accommodating the complexities of human life.

We read one essay called "Basic Clinical Skills: First Encounters" by Melvin Konner that left a profound impression on me. It was a short piece, written by a former doctor about his experience in medical school and segue into the world of medicine. While "work-life balance" is an important value of modern society, for doctors, the difference between the two constituents is often inextricable or nonexistent. Konner describes his experience on an airplane when a fellow passenger collapsed of a possible heart attack, and his anxiety in deciding whether or not he should fulfill his obligation as an inexperienced second-year medical student to raise his hand when asked if there was a doctor on board. In understanding his role in society, he realizes that it is one to which he is permanently and perhaps unwillingly entitled to:

I had to begin to relate to the world as a doctor, because that was the way the world would now be relating to me. That entailed the ready acceptance of heavy responsibility, with all its practical, legal, and social consequences.

I used to believe I could never be a doctor because I wasn't particularly stimulated by biology or thrilled at the prospect of performing surgery. But now I realize I could never be a doctor if only because I wouldn't be equipped to deal with the moral and ethical implications of the practice. Medicine is so subjective; it comprises all aspects of humanity—mental, physical, emotional—but we often ignore the latter part of it. Or at the very least we pretend not to notice.

We talk a lot about the experience and the repercussions of illness rather than the concept of illness itself, because health is very much a state of mind (actually the title of my paper...too pretentious?). But one of our classes analyzed the word "care," which is particularly relative and a little bit ironic in medicine. In the English language it connotes emotional sensitivity and connectivity, while in medicine it simply refers to "medical and surgical intervention for the purpose of favorably altering the course of an illness." How's that for warm and fuzzy.

A lot of people ask me why I'm an English major. And I usually don't have a reason for it (especially during finals week with the inhumane number of essays I'm required to write). But it's because this is what I love about literature classes—they're designed to teach you how to think. How to form a coherent and logical thought progression, how to be critical, how to consider minute details in the context of multiple frameworks. And I think for that reason it's so applicable to life, even if it is slightly pompous (there's a reason I dislike other English majors). But it's a lot of fun. I'm genuinely excited about my literature classes and about my's like taking English classes with a lil bit of sociology, philosophy, and psychology mixed in. Next quarter I'm taking "Body Language" and then "The Meaning of Life," so get ready for some really interesting conversations in the near future.