Monday, April 25, 2011

Fifty-Five Words comes to Healthcare

I wonder whether Steve Moss ever envisioned that his idea for the 55 word essay contest would ever take on such a life, or move into other venues of publication outside of his town of San Luis Obispo in California? In 1987, Steve invited people to submit 55 word essays to New Times, a local, independent weekly. The competition has turned into an annual event for the small paper.

Originally, the essays were collected and published by Steve, but since the onset of blogging, nanofiction has grown in popularity and abundance! Now Families, Systems, and Health has opened its doors to his new style of literature. Perhaps there might be a few submissions from our hospice and palliative medicine world?

Here is an example of one story:
Trouble on the Mountainside (from nanofiction - Andrew Looney) "Death!" Chris cried triumphantly. Flashlight beams danced together on the plastic floor as rain pattered lightly on the canvas above. "Death by Chocolate means I win!" Suddenly there were noises outside. Everyone froze. A face peers in through the flap. "Lights out was an hour ago," said the scoutmaster, "and... hey, Fluxx! Can I play?"

Families, Systems, and Health announces the continuation of its creative writing feature
to accompany the existing poetry column. Fifty-five word stories are brief pieces of
creative writing which use elements of poetry, prose, or both to encapsulate key experiences in health care. We are seeking submissions of 55-word stories to consider for
publication in the fall 2011 issue of Families, Systems, and Health. We will consider
pieces of exactly 55 words (excluding title) in poetry or prose style which give insight into
key moments of the healing arts.
Submissions for the column will be due by May 15, 2011. Please indicate “Fifty-five
word story” in the submission.
Colleen T. Fogarty, MD, MSc; FSH Fifty-Five Word Story Editor
Carol Edelstein, MSW; FSH Poetry Editor
Colleen T. Fogarty, MD, MSc; Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine

Monday, April 25, 2011 by Unknown · 0

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dead & Gone # 2

I'm doubtful there is anyone reading this who actually owns this CD.  I came across it doing some internet browsing.  The CD is "Dead and Gone # 2: Totenlieder - Songs of Death"  (1997).  Although released in Germany, the majority of songs are actually in English.

It's very eclectic, and reminds me of someone making a CD for a friend, just sticking a lot of random songs about death onto a disc.  I went on a little journey though, attempting to find some examples of some of the songs and was definitely introduced to some new music.  However, I still can't decide if this was a serious attempt at a compilation or a joke.

When I say eclectic, I am not exaggerating.  For instance the opening track comes from an alternative rock group from Australia named The Beasts of Bourbon.  You can listen to "Rest in Peace" on Youtube.  This is followed by a dark piece by the prolific poet, actress, singer/songwriter Lydia Lunch called "Gloomy Sunday"  The song, mostly spoken, seems to discuss suicide as the lyrics say "Soon there'll be candles and prayers that are said I know, but let them not weep, let them know that I'm glad to go"

Listening to some of the very old traditional songs like "Whisper Softly, Mother's Dying" (1928) I was struck with the potential history preserved on this album. You'll hear what I mean if you follow the link above to a short 30sec. clip of the song.

One of the most frightening songs of the album is a piece by avant-garde opera and jazz musician Diamanda Galas entitled "Cris D'Aveugle" (Blind Man's Cry) taken from a text written in 1873.  The song is full of whispers and screaming. Overall, the song seems more suited to a haunted house exhibit.

Probably the most musically pleasing song to me was the 4th track from the group Miranda Sex Garden.  The group is a female trio who generally sings a Capella madrigal music.  Their song "Gush Forth My Tears" has been remixed many times. The harmonies are beautiful and the lyrics quite simple; "Gush forth my tears/
and stay the burning/of my poor heart/or her eyes/choose you whether/o' peevish fond desire/alas my sighs
sighs out/still blow the fire"

Finally I must mention the closing song by Gary Floyd "From the Darkness to the Light" (1999).  Although meant to be uplifting, in the traditional up beat blue grass tempo, the song's meaning is much more macabre. The lyrics "We are moving from the darkness to the light. Rest has come, our battles done, we've won the fight" are discussing someones actual dying process. What I find a bit eerie is the way musically voices are added to the chorus, as if more and more people are dying.  The end, is even more haunting with 2 child voices finishing up this energetic melody, as if they too are happy to be dying.

In sum, a unique compilation of mostly unknown music.  If I think of each piece as 'art' rather than radio music material, I can enjoy it a bit more.

Monday, April 18, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 8

Monday, April 11, 2011

Susan Braig: Pharmaceutical Art

61 year old jewelry maker Susan Braig was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Braig had private insurance but was under-insured and left many thousands of dollars in debt. She found a unique way to combine her illness and her art to help pay off her medical bills.

In 2007, Braig went to a medical themed art exhibit and got the idea to use her own leftover pills in her jewelry. "I bought my first round of medicine and it cost $500 out of my own pocket," she said. "I looked at the drugstore receipt and then at the little pills and wondered if they were precious gems." One of her first pieces was a princes tiara made from her cancer medications. Now Braig gets old medications donated to her by friends to transform into her jewelry art. She launched a line of jewelry called Designer Drug Jewelry.

My first thought, is this even legal? Apparently, she seals the pills so that they are unusable. (I wonder if she has rules about what pills she uses, like no Schedule IIs.) As she uses pills and gel caps, some of the jewelry is very fragile and heat intolerant. She uses old medication bottles and with cotton balls to package her jewelry.

I was intrigued by the story because I liked the symbolism. She has turned her old medications into "precious gems". Turning somethings that are likely symbols of her illness into something very unique and beautiful. I never saw pills, with all their different colors and shapes, as beautiful before. (I guess that's why she's the artist.) Also it just amuses me to see a necklace with "Zofran" written on it. Apparently her Viagra necklaces are quite popular.

Braig's story was recently featured in the LA Times which is where I found it. She has also been on NPR in the past, talking about her cancer debt and being under-insured.

Monday, April 11, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cancer Country Music

When you look up "Country Music" you'll mainly find definitions about origin.  One unwritten stereotype, however, is the emotional narrative of the genre, that can at times feel as if the listener is being manipulated to tears.

There surely is a cathartic aspect to listening to songs that make you cry, as evidenced on a recent home visit of mine.  I was seeing a young cancer patient, and the TV was set on CMT, with country videos playing in the background.  What shocked me was that the patient's young wife and friends had me pause to watch part of a video in which the theme of the song was about death.  The wife commented, "We just love these songs, and sit here and cry with them all day" (As if there wasn't reason enough).

Well, there are plenty of country songs to cry about. In fact, there may be enough songs to actually form an unofficial sub-genre called 'Cancer Country' as mentioned by Ron Rosenbaum in a 2007 article published on

So, if you are a country music fan or have friends or patients who are, add these next songs to your repertoire of emotional songs about people with cancer.  The warning label on these should read "may induce tears"

The oldest on my list is Tim Mcgraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman in 2004.  The song is associated with Tim Mcgraw's father who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2003, living 9 months after diagnosis.  These lyrics set up the song, "I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-rays, Talking bout' the options and talking bout' sweet times. I asked him when it sank in, that this might really be the real end. How's it hit 'cha when you get that kind of news?"

In 2005 Rascal Flats released the single "Skin" written by Joe Henry and Doug Johnson. Known by fans as "Sara Beth" the song is about a girl with Leukemia going to her prom.  An example of the lyrics, "Sara Beth is scared to death, as she sits holding her mom, 'cause it would be a mistake for someone to take a girl with no hair to the prom"

Craig Morgan released his single "Tough" in 2007. This song is about a breast cancer surviver who teaches her husband a lesson about being 'tough'.  The lyrics say it all, "She wore that wig to church, pink ribbon pinned there on her shirt, no room for fear, full of faith, hands held high singing Amazing Grace. Never once complained, refusing to give up, and I thought I was tough"

Finally, Randy Owen, former vocalist in the band Alabama, released his first solo single in 2008 entitled "Braid My Hair" written by Chris Gray and Brent Wilson. The song is about a bald headed girl going through chemotherapy and dreaming about what she will do once she's well, as the lyrics state, "I'm gonna ride my bike, I'm gonna climb a tree. Gonna fly a kite, score running little league. I'm gonna go to school, make a friend, be able to run again. Take off my mask and just breath in the air. But most of all I'm gonna braid my hair."

Besides being about cancer, each of these songs has another central theme- one we in Palliative Medicine talk about a lot - the theme of 'quality of life' living.  Each central person is dreaming about and attempting to live a full life in the midst of disease.

Anyone know of any other "cancer country" songs that should be included?

Monday, April 4, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 6