Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hole in the Head

The article which appeared in the paper had a grand total of one word (poetry) devoted to the writing group. The article focused on a film class being taken by local doctors. The whole project is called the Med Poets Society, and involves Notre Dame professors, or retired professors, teaching classes in the humanities to doctors. I took the writing class last year and the four people who took the class get together once a month to read our work to each other.

One of the things I wrote for the class was a poem about recollections I had while walking the halls of the building where some of my first year medical school classes were held. That poem has been rejected three times--once by The Pharos ("Although much poetry that we do not publish in The Pharos lacks poetic grace, imagery, or rhyme, your piece has much of that. Rather, several of our reviewers have trouble with the content and inferences"), and twice by JAMA, first because it was too long, and the second time, after I shortened it, because it read like "narrative prose." Yes, I'm collecting my rejection letters. Steven King wrote in his book On Writing that when he started sending short stories to magazines as a kid, he put a spike in his wall and hung his rejection letters there. He had quite a thick pile.

Anyway, one of the things I recalled in the poem was a movie, entitled Maganga, we were shown in class. It was about African medicine men, and showed an operation called trephination, or trepanation, where a hole is cut in the skull. This is probably the oldest form of surgery in the world, and has been documented in skulls 7000 years old. Some of the skulls show signs of healing, indicating that people survived. Indeed, some people underwent multiple procedures. It's still done in modern medicine, to drain blood clots around the brain and to implant various devices in the brain. What I find amazing is that there are people out there who are willing to have the procedure done electively for its alleged but unproven positive effect on "brain metabolism." Check out the web site http://www.trepan.com. There are even examples of self-trepanation with electric drills! You can't make stuff like this up.

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