Finally the postman had an A4 envelope with DO NOT BEND on the front in his hand. My Medicine & the Arts Certificate from UCT! I recently completed a course on the subject matter and as birth photographer am so excited about the possibilities this new field holds for future healthcare students, but also students of the humanities (including artists, writers etc.)
For me Medicine and the Humanities is about integration. It encourages an integrated observation, interpretation and response to the health and wellbeing of people.
An integrated observation meaning that the body, mind and soul are observed through various disciplines, using various tools (including but not limited to technology and science).
An integrated interpretation meaning that we gain knowledge or insight into a patient or person by interpreting and in some instances ‘humanising’ raw information /data presented by that patient within an integrated context (this is where other factors like socio-economics, culture, religion, age, demographics etc. all play a role).
An integrated response meaning that we express our insight in an integrated manner using once again various disciplines – focusing on perhaps on the most relevant.
Here is my practical example as birth photographer: When a mother requests me to photograph her birth there are various things I have to observe: how she feels about birth & her body, what her health care provider says about her physical abilities to give birth, what her partner feels, cultural beliefs in terms of the process. As birth photographer I should understand how to interpret this information in a manner that will allow me to capture the parents’ unique journey whilst holding the birth space with empathy, understanding and respect for both the healthcare but also human aspects of birth and what it means for those particular parents.
I think Dr. Bernard Lown summarises it well in “The lost art of Healing” when he says: “…caring without science is a well-intentioned kindness, but not medicine. …Science without caring empties medicine of healing…”
Opposition between Science and Humanities in Medicine is dangerous. As a mother I know how traumatic medical intervention during birth can be and the scarring that can occur when there is a complete disregard for the emotional journey birth holds. At the same time I have often been incredibly grateful for the option in risky and life-threatening situations. Collaboration is needed without minimising the importance of both knowledges. It should never become an ‘either or’ situation.
As birth photographer I often find myself within the birth space, observing the delicate balancing act between the safety and physical wellbeing of a mother and her baby on the one side and their spiritual or emotional wellbeing on the other. Unfortunately it often boils down to an either or situation, but imagine if the two could be integrated effectively? Progress has been made in this regard: “gentle C-sections”; alternative pain management; allowing SABPA accredited birth photographers to capture birth memories; encouraging skin to skin; allowing doulas into the labour wards AND theatre and delayed cord-clamping; empowering parents with information and allowing them to make choices and encouraging and respecting (as far as possible) parents’ birth plans are but a couple examples where medicine and the humanities are being integrated effectively, but more can be done to move away from the view that birth is always just a ‘medical condition or procedure’ and embrace the emotional and very natural aspects of the birth journey.
It’s only the beginning! I can’t wait to see what this field will look like in 5 years’ time!