Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

The exact origins of Memorial Day are not exactly agreed upon. Many cities claim to be the founders of this holiday. The tradition, however, dates back to Civil War times. At one time Memorial day was known as Decoration Day, as it was the day families and friends of fallen Civil War soldiers would choose place flowers and "decorate" the graves.

The first official Memorial Day was May 30th 1868, after the day was declared by General John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (a veterans' organization). The holiday was adopted by Michigan and New York and then by all the Northern states through the late 1800's. The Southern states had there own days they observed and did not recognize this holiday until after WWI (several Southern states still have a separate Memorial Day type holiday to honor confederate soldiers). Apparently the date, May 30th was chosen as it was not the anniversary of any battle.

At first the holiday was just to honor the Civil War dead. After WWI, Memorial Day changed to honoring all of Americans who died fighting in any war. Now it is often seen as a day to remember all who have died. (I remember going to the cemetery to decorate the graves of family members on Memorial Day when I was young.) In 1967, the name of the holiday was officially changed to "Memorial Day" and in 1971 the National Holiday Act changed the date of the holiday to the last Monday in May, creating a very convenient 3-day weekend. There has been for several years a push to move Memorial Day back to May 30th in order to try to give some meaning back to the day (so it's not just the long weekend when the pools open).

The top photo is from Arlington National Cemetery. Every year around Memorial Day, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment or The Old Guard, in a tradition called "Flags In", places small flags in front of all graves in the cemetery.

The Fredericksburg National Cemetary hosts an annual Luminaria each year for Memorial Day. Approximately 15,300 candles are placed by volunteers on each of the graves (80% of which are unknown soldiers).

I have often wondered about the significance of the red flowers being given out for donations around this time every year. Inspired by the poem, "In Flanders Fields" (poem below) by Canadian WWI veteran and poet John McCrae, the Veterans of Foreign Wars take donations for their "Buddy" Poppy every year around Memorial Day. Theses poppies are assembled by disabled and needy veterans. Since 1922 this program has been raising money for veterans and their families through the poppies.

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below...
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields...
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands, we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields...

Monday, May 31, 2010 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 1

Monday, May 24, 2010

Charlotte Gainsbourg "IRM"

For clinicians looking for medical songs to pull out for discussion, you may want to add this song by French actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. The song, IRM is from her new album of the same name. IRM, the album, was released Jan. 26, 2010 on the Elekra/Asylum label. Co-written, mixed and produced by Beck, the album is described by Michael Katzif from NPR as having "lyrical subtlety and layered details that unspool upon each listen"

The title song, IRM, is the french name for MRI, as in Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The background story is that in 2007 Charlotte had a skiing accident in the states. After the minor accident she began having headaches, and subsequent serial MRI's were preformed. Ultimately she required surgical decompression from a hematoma.

She says that during the MRI procedures, she'd listen to the whirring of the machine thinking what great background it would make for a song. While many of us may hear sounds in our daily lives that we randomly think could fit into a song- she did it. But it's not just background, the lyrics themselves are about the procedure as well. Below are the lyrics and then song:

Take a picture, what's inside?
Ghost image in my mind
Neural pattern like a spider
Capillary to the centre

Hold still and press the button
Looking through a glass onion
Following the x-ray eye
From the cortex to medulla

Analyze EKG
Can you see a memory?
Register all my fear
On a flowchart disappear

Leave my head demagnetized
Tell me where the trauma lies
In the scan of pathogen
Or the shadow of my sin.

Anyone who's had an MRI, or been around them won't have trouble hearing the machine sound. I even think the drum beat has the sound of a tachycardic pulse. The lyrics help contrast so well the impersonal world of medicine with the idea of being human, i.e. "can you see a memory?"

Here's the song from YouTube below.

Monday, May 24, 2010 by Amy Clarkson · 1

Monday, May 17, 2010

Top 10 Palliatve Care Children's Movies

Happy 2nd Anniversary!

Another year has come and gone, and we here at Pallimed Arts like to celebrate with top 10 lists. We did the top 10 palliative care films in 2008, and the top 10 palliative care songs in 2009. Although we are growing up- this is our 2nd anniversary- we thought we'd get "younger" with this years top 10. We're listing our favorite children's films that have good palliative care themes.

Plot summaries are courtesy of IMDB and the links will take you to a trailer of the films. As before we hope you comment with your own ideas of children's films we left off our list.

10. The Never Ending Story (A troubled boy dives into a wonderous fantasy world through the pages of a mysterious book)

9. My Neighbor Totoro (When two girls move to the country to be near their ailing mother, they have adventures with the wonderous forest spirits who live nearby)

8. Bridge to Terabithia (A preteen's life is changed after befriending the new girl at school)

7. Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (Molly Mahoney is the awkward and insecure manager of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, the strangest, most fantastic, most wonderful toy store in the world. But when Mr. Magorium, the 243 year-old eccentric who owns the store, bequeaths the store to her, a dark and ominous change begins to take over the once remarkable Emporium)

6. Up (By tying thousands of balloon to his home, 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. Right after lifting off, however, he learns he isn't alone on his journey, since Russell, a wilderness explorer 70 years his junior, has inadvertently become a stowaway on the trip)

5. Lion King (Tricked into thinking he killed his father, a guilt ridden lion cub flees into exile and abandons his identity as the future King)

4. My Girl (Vada Sultenfuss is obsessed with death. Her mother is dead, and her father runs a funeral parlor. She is also in love with her English teacher)

3. Bambi (Animated film about a young deer, Bambi, growing up in the wild after his mother is shot by hunters)

2. Old Yeller (A boy brings a yellow dog home. The dog loves the family as much as they love him, but can the love last?) *no trailer found, link is to a scene from the movie.

1. Charlotte's Web (Wilbur the pig is scared of the end of the season, because he knows that come that time, he will end up on the dinner table. He hatches a plan with Charlotte, a spider that lives in his pen, to ensure that this will never happen)

Monday, May 17, 2010 by Amy Clarkson · 2

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Awakenings Project

(NOTE ** Links to The Awakenings Project disabled secondary to possible malware on that site.  Pallimed Arts is clear of malware.** UPDATE Aug 22 2010 - links clear of malware)

Mostly, in my practice, mental illness is a sort of co-morbid condition to the reason I'm following. Some recent experiences have me thinking about the chronic, debilitating (and even, in a few cases, potentially fatal) nature of mental illness.

The Awakenings Project  is an initiative started with the mission to assist artists with mental illness with their art and to help them use art as a creative outlet. The project deals not only with art, but also with music, literature, and drama. Here I'm focusing more on the art.

The painting to the left is entitled "On the Threshold of a Dream" by Awakenings Project artist Kurt Taecker. Taecker had been living with mental illness since age 17 and died January 2010. His art "reflected the twists and turns in his mind". He once said the process of creating his art gave him "is a sense of healing, a momentary lessening of anguish."

The sculpture to the right, entitled "Peter's Brain" by Peter Austin is a tangled mess of roots. To the left is "Peter 12X24". Both images are self portraits. How the artist sees himself, his brain. His brain is almost spider-like, twisted. The faces are misshapen, each different from the rest.

The last painting is entitled "Smoothing the Shroud" by Trish Evers. She was a co-founder of the Awakenings Project and died from uterine sarcoma in 2000. Hands smooth out the somewhat blurred image of a face. All the different colored hands seem to be lending support and everything in the painting radiates from the face. What jumps out at me the most are the eyes. While almost every other feature is touched by the hands or the other rays of color coming from the face, the eyes seemed untouched.

Monday, May 10, 2010 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 6

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cordula Volkening

Cordula Volkening was born in Germany, and attended the School of Art and Design in Kiel, Germany. She immigrated to New York in 1985, but it wasn't until she was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer that art changed from a passion to a career.

Prior to her diagnosis in the summer of 2007, she worked mainly in interior construction design and renovations and raised her two children. Once diagnosed and given a one year prognosis, she literally began sketching right in the hospital and then when discharged went to work painting- creating 30 new works in the first three months after her diagnosis.

She wrote on her Myspace page in Nov. 2007, "I paint in between my radiation, chemotherapy and my daily session of are you kidding me... "

She did multiple art shows, often with fatalistic titles such as "Would You Like an Invitation to My Destination?" and "Transition: May We Go to the Places that Scare Us"

In January of 2009 the disease had progressed, and when given the option to prolong life with more chemo, yet render her too weak to paint, the decision was clear; no more treatments. A true palliative decision, since she valued making art over quantity of days.

A quote from a New York Times article by Corey Killgannon profiling her in Feb. 2009 states, "She said the terminal illness has simplified things, washing away the worry and petty preoccupations that almost made life harder when she had plenty of it. And she has never felt more connected to the canvas and to her creativity."

Other quotes from the article:

"she calls every painting a "gift" from the cancer"

"her painting style is shaped by one thing, 'I have nothing to lose'"

Cordula died April 22nd, 2009.

To see more of her paintings visit a slide show "A Passion for Art, Through Cancer", or Cordula's MySpace page. Also, interviews with her on Youtube. This first set done earlier in her disease is quite a contrast to the NY Times video done a few months before her death.

Monday, May 3, 2010 by Amy Clarkson · 1