Adventures in medicine: ‘I journey through the body every day’

Gavin Francis in The Guardian:

BrainThrough my encounters in the clinic, I’m often aware of the ways humanity’s finest stories and greatest art can resonate with, and help inform, modern medical practice. Doctors do their jobs better when they are up to date with the science behind the treatments they prescribe, but also when they acknowledge the importance of culture, metaphor and meaning in the way we make sense of our lives. Sometimes I feel the need to take a step back from the white-tiled walls and jargon of the clinic and see medical practice in a broader context: embedded at the heart of human lives, with all their complications, disappointments and celebrations. The body is a kind of landscape after all – the most intimate one – and a storehouse of almost indescribable marvels.

There was a time when if you wanted a good day out you might go along to see a public dissection – the bodies of criminals would be laid out in a public space and anatomised. The popularity of these events was not just educational, of course – it was partly about voyeurism, but it also spoke to a deep need to glimpse deeper into the mystery of our own humanity. It was considered entertainment to see life and death stripped back to essentials; the physician-anatomist was like a guide exploring inner space. These events became popular in the 16th century but had their roots in public spectacles of the Romans. Public dissections fell out of fashion around the time doctors were growing in power: no longer guides to a mysterious inner kingdom, but autocrats protecting secret knowledge. That paternalistic attitude reached a high point perhaps two or three decades ago, but is increasingly out of fashion. The time might be right to bring back public dissection, but instead of using scalpels and saws, I prefer to cut up the body using stories, literature and art.

More here.