Documenting Medicine: Smith and Caregiving


On Monday October 10 I’ll give a presentation at Duke hospital about Smith and caregiving, which is a thread that runs through his life and work, not unlike several of the 19th century Romantic poets.  It’s not a coincidence that the words “doctor” and “document” come from the same Latin root, docere (doh-sarah).  My father is a retired physician and my mother was a nurse, and my brother is a physician, so it’s in my blood.  Natural caregiving is an impulse that doesn’t turn off.  A natural caregiver is never not a caregiver, like an artist is never not an artist.  It’s an itch that doesn’t turn off.  If you look at ancient pictures of caregivers, from a variety of traditions, they are often sitting there listening to a patient.  My father always said that if you listened to patients talking long enough, they’ll eventually tell you exactly what ails them.  That kind of listening (paying attention, getting outside of yourself) is a lost art, not just in medicine but in the culture at large.  One of the projects I’m pondering for the future is a national oral history project on doctors, nurses, and midwives over the age of 75.  In our loud public health care debate, I don’t hear the perspective of caregivers who have been working in the field for a half century.

Interestingly, in Jane Getz stirring memoir-in-progress, posted HERE on this blog last year, she noted how so many male jazz musicians were married to nurses. Did these “big dogs” require around the clock care? she asked.  Smith’s first wife Carmen was a nurse, too.

More information about my talk can be found HERE.


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