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Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009 01:26 pm

Tearing away the medical mask

Scope, the 2009 SIU School of Medicine literary magazine

Cypress Knees on Lake Springfield, a photograph by Tom Ala, M.D., in the department of neurology, won third place in the art division for SCOPE, SIU's literary magazine.
PHOTO COURTESY SIU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
Reading Scope, the 16th annual literary magazine of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, uncovered a more human side to the health care system than that to which I have become accustomed. In the last decade I’ve been inundated by red tape and bad experiences as I cared for my son, my 85-year-old mother-in-law and her son.

This year’s edition of Scope contains 24 poems, short stories, paintings and photographs by students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of SIU, most hailing from towns throughout Illinois. Scope is a small book, only 40 pages, but it tore away the clinical mask that I have come to know as the face of the medical establishment, and allowed the magic of literature and art to uncover the humanity that connects us.

Perhaps the most poignant and noteworthy piece in the book rests in Dr. Michael R. Pranzatelli’s poem, Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, that took first place in the poetry category. Pranzatelli’s keen observation of an ICU room during a child’s death brings levels of music from ordinary things to his ears — a tape of a Beethoven sonata, the machines and movement of people and even the sonata as it might have sounded stuck in the composer’s head during its inception.

Also significant is Sandra Shea’s prose piece, Promise Made, Promise Kept. Shea describes her father’s death in the hospital from the perspective of both daughter and medical professional. The nurse questions her, “What do you want me to do?” and comfort overcomes her in her father’s directive not to “let me live on a machine.” Shea implodes a powerful image at the end of the story: “Mom takes off her rings to put your ring on her finger, the ring she gave you 58 years and six months ago, then puts her rings back on to hold yours close to her.”

Editors Kate Richards and Rachel Ade, both second-year medical students, deliver a handsome book. Their choice of cover art, Navy Pier, an oil painting by Kelsey Thornton, strikes a somber tone full of illumination reminiscent of Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone. Unlike Van Gogh, the lights in Navy Pier are few and obscure; you might need to look for them. One such light reflects on the inner pillar of an arch. It doesn’t glisten or glimmer or fill the sky. It hides behind the corner of night as if reassuring the viewer, “Look, I live on, even in all this darkness.”

People like me need that message. They should put this in all the medical waiting rooms.

Local poet Anita Stienstra has edited the youth poetry book, Navigating the Maze, for more than 10 years. The essay, “Get a Room,” from her book, Essays on Living with MS, will be published by LaChance Publishing this fall.
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