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Two stories and an ode
  1. G Bolton1
  1. 1Medical Humanities, University of Sheffield Institute of General Practice and Primary Care, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield, S5 7AU;

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    Literature can enable insight and understanding in both writer and reader.

    A reader has issues explained in memorable ways. I know that icebergs make a terrible racket grinding against each other because Coleridge has told me so: “The ice was here, the ice was there, / The ice was all around; / It cracked, and growled, and roared and howled, / Like noises in a swound'1 (despite never knowing what a swound is). And I empathise with Roquentin and his struggle with connectedness.2

    Significant health benefits from writing about stressful events have been reported from many randomised control trials—for example, Smyth3 and Pennebaker et al4). The opinion in a JAMA editorial was: “Were the authors to have provided similar outcome evidence about a new drug, it likely would be in widespread use within a short time'.5 Sadly creative writing is never likely to be promoted by a drugs company. Virginia Woolf commented about her own use of this “drug”:

    I used to think of him [father] and mother daily; but writing The Lighthouse, laid them in my mind. And now he comes back sometimes, but differently. (I believe this to be true—that I was obsessed by them both, unhealthily; & writing of them was a necessary act.)6

    Literature, medicine, and health care are all the study and care of the individual person. An understanding of the human condition, in all its aspects, must be central to medical and health care education, research, and individual study. This can only be undertaken by including the values, ideas, and images of individuals and culture, as well as the way the human body and mind function and dysfunction. The nature, importance, and role of the human experience of patients and practitioners, including their experience of the patient-practitioner relationship, …

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    • Michele Angelo Petrone is a painter who helps medical undergraduates, medical and nursing staff, and sick people to learn how to express themselves through painting. Lindsay Buckell is a nurse, currently employed in palliative care. Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni is Professor and Head of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and Public Health, and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University. Gillie Bolton, Editor of Opening the Word Hoard, is a writer and Research Fellow in Medical Humanities, University of Sheffield Institute of General Practice and Primary Care, Sheffield, UK. Authors' affiliations