Virginia Woolf once said that “putting feelings into words takes the pain away.” What she may have not realized was how practical reading and writing could get at… the hospital!
If you see a doctor visiting his/her patient carrying a copy of a poem, instead of a medical chart, don’t be surprised. According to a WSJ article, hospitals around the U.S. are running programs where doctors set aside their time to read poems to their patients or patients learn how to read, discuss, and write poetry.
Any tangible effects on patients’ health are yet to be seen. So far, the feedback has been positive. One of the participating doctors described poetry reading as “healing in a broader sense” and another doctor noticed that reading poetry allowed more intimate conversations between him and his patients.
Physical losses–broken bones and damaged organs–inevitably lead to psychological stress. Being immobile, under constant pain, and losing appetite, patients face their own mortality. All of a sudden, the world that they have known and lived in for so many years turns upside down. They become foreigners to their own bodies.
In order to process new experiences, the new world, the new bodies, and the new selves, patients need a new language. And poetry could be that language of the mind. Why? It has a way to allow the unsayable to be spoken (no wonder why we have so many love poems!) and the un-feelable to be felt.
A common scene in a medical drama is that doctors talk in jargons and a patient, looking clueless and rightly frustrated, ask, “English please!” Can you imagine how different that air in the room would be when doctors not only speak the same “English” but also share poems with their patients? That feels more like a human interaction.