‘My first sight on entering the consultation room was a Babel-like tower of multi-coloured folders containing the patient’s notes … a tower of sheets of paper, bursting out of dog-eared files, in which the recent relevant results have rarely been filed, and if they have been filed, have been filed in such a way that it is usually very difficult to find them.’
(Marsh 2014 p264)
Aspects of people’s stories can be found between the pages of a medical record, yet medical records are about the patient, not the person, for the practitioner. In much of what we have read this term the overall story is an accumulation, something found in the words on the page but also in between the words, between the pages, within different styles and formats, which makes me think of the way that a medical record works.
I want to unsettle conventional expectations of a medical record and use it as inspiration and as a place to contain poetry, prose and critical work, the scaffolding for the story of a person. Because of my background as an optometrist, I have written about sight loss, and explore issues of changing identity in relation to shifts related to sight loss. Sight loss unsettles the human experience in the same way that experimental writing can. It forces you to look in a different way, use different parts of your vision, your brain, your mind. Did you know that people with cortical visual impairment may not be able to ‘see’ an object, yet can still react to its presence?
Our senses are dominated by the visual, and as Martin Jay explains in Downcast Eyes (1994 p3), so is our language. Development of sight comes late to the foetus, and much only happens post birth. Since the industrial revolution our culture has shifted from oral to visual. In the imagination, our brains prioritise images over sounds and smells. The visual function takes a disproportionately large part of our brain, and it dominates this paper. Visual metaphors recur throughout. French creeps into this paper, as does Old English, as does Latin, language of medicine, in attempt to seize back jargon, to own language, on behalf of the patient, the person, my self.
With more space and time I would have included letters – a medical record is packed with referral letters between practitioners, post it notes, perhaps the person’s own notes, letters and thoughts. There is a further critical paper on sight loss in literature that I could not include due to constraints of space. This story spills out beyond these sheets.
- Marsh, Henry, Do No Harm, Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery (Phoenix, London, 2014)
- Jay, Martin, Downcast Eyes University of California Press 1994
- Nilsen, Anders,, Don’t go where I can’t follow (Drawn and Quarterly Quebec 2012)
- Michael, Anne, Fugitive Pieces (Bloomsbury, London, 1998)
- Carson, Anne, Autobiography of Red, (Jonathon Cape, London 1998)
- Angel, Katherine, Unmastered, A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell (Allen Lane, London2012)
- Inspiration for word definitions derives from oed.com and etymonline.com accessed 3, 25, 28 March 2015 and Downcast Eyes (referenced above)