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Art of Medicine

Art of Medicine

Since the installment of Transcendence, the Angel sculpture positioned on the front of the grass island on our campus, patients have asked me if I plan on leaving the Stone to pursue a life of art. Even though I have created hundreds of paintings and sculptures over the years, that question has not been put to me until after the sculpture had been installed. It seems to mark a point in my life when those who view it decide that Doc is an artist. The prevailing concern is that I will just abandon my practice, leave everyone who has come to me for help and just cut off any and all connection with the infirm.

Before my wife died six years ago, she was adamant that I leave the practice of medicine and pursue my passion, assuming that taking care of the ill was just some occupation I chose in order to make enough money to pay my bills. I guess one would assume that she saw that I was connected to the intellectual force of creative genius and she wanted me to fully explore that connection before I died. She was in the throes of dying herself and lamented about some of the paths she took along her way. It was a tempting offer. Even my estate planner sided with her, saying I would be able to do more for the common good of man through my art than healing one patient at a time. How absolutely sad I felt hearing people I loved or respected tell me that almost thirty years of my life was somehow wasted on being of service to mankind through the practice of medicine. After all, a doctor is a doctor is a doctor. An artist is unique.

I must confess. Becoming a physician was not my first choice. And probably not my second or third. I never completed a high school survey that would help me to predict my occupational fitness based on my personality traits and talents, but I'm sure the practice of medicine would not have been in the top ten choices. I have often toyed with the idea of taking one now, just to see what the experts in vocational counseling would conclude. But I have other more important things to do on my days off than trying to find an occupational fit. I already have one.

I went to medical school for two very distinct reasons. The first was to impress my father. He wanted one of his three children to go to medical school, he believed that I was probably too intellectually inept to not only matriculate into a medical school, but survive the rigorous academic schedule of medical school. He was not shy about telling me his perceptions about my lack of cognitive ability. As any son of a narcissist father would do, I decided I would prove him wrong and become a physician. I thought the payoff would be respect and love from my dad. Ignorance is bliss. After being accepted into two medical schools and placed on the waiting list for a third, my father's criticism increased. He felt I was absolutely flawed for going to Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine and that living off campus was more moronic than choosing a Mickey Mouse, second rate medical school. At the time I was building swimming pools to make money, had my own contracting company and realized I would never gain my father's favor in any endeavor I undertook.

The second reason was to win the favor of Lisa's father. I was committed to her since I was seventeen years-old. She was Chaldean and her family wanted her to marry a Chaldean. I was Armenian. Well, when I broke the news to her father that I was accepted to medical school, he was just as unimpressed as my own father. He and Lisa's mother arranged a marriage for her to her grandfathers second cousin on her mother's side of the family, and shipped her to California. Strike two. By that time, I had passed two years of medical school and was unimpressed with medical school as a whole.

At the end of the four year saga, I chose emergency medicine because the professors seemed more compassionate to the medical students. I could have cared less about working in an emergency department or in any field of medicine for that matter. I wanted to create something, anything and I had an entrepreneurial spirit. Bottom line: I was so far in debt from going to medical school, there was no way out except becoming a doctor and practicing until my loans were paid off. Eighty-five thousand dollars was the final sum. Thirty years ago, that was a lot of money.

So when did I become an artist? The day I started to draw my teachers and classmates in third grade. I had an unusual style of drawing and seldom showed my work to anyone. I always found time to make things and enjoyed building anything from scratch. I had a grand imagination when I was in middle school. I liked to work with my hands and admired those men I knew who did tool and die making. I built model airplanes and my heart's desire was to sculpt prototype automobiles for the car industry. In high school, I was surrounded on campus by beautiful fountains and stand alone art. I had rebuilt a Mercedes 1961 190SL by the time I was twenty-one years-old. I had so many talents and gifts that somehow got lost in the fray of living my life.

I learned how to sew from my grandmother, she also taught me to crochet and knit. Whenever she needed something repaired, I was the go-to-guy. I put in water heaters, painted walls and ceilings, cut the grass, laid brick in the back yard patio area, fixed electrical outlets and lamps, maintained the automobiles, shoveled snow, dried dishes after meals, repaired bicycles, and played chess for a hobby. I worked out to stay in shape for football starting at ten years-old. Whenever I had pencil and paper, I drew anything. I loved abstract expressionism. I liked drawing people and studied drawing from how-to books that I found in the library. I learned about grids, shading and the use of negative space. I started sculpting when I was fourteen years-old. I gave my Uncle a welded wire pig for Christmas my freshman year in high school. He still has that pig sitting on his window sill in his kitchen. I made wooden bowls for my grandmother. Who knows where they are now.


In medical school and residency, I routinely drew pictures of my patients in charts to help identify pain areas, lacerations and other findings. Some would make fun of my record keeping, but it helped me to bridge the gap between art and medicine. I carved faces out of wood to pass the time. About twenty-years ago, I decided to get very serious about art in all of its forms. And the rest is history.

When my wife died, I went to see a counselor to deal with the emotional trauma of losing the most important person in my life. The counselor asked me if I was a frustrated artist practicing medicine or a frustrated doctor doing art. I thought for a while, "I'm neither and both at the same time." He wanted more. I gave him less. I am an artist. I see myself as an artist. I have the artist eye. I am cursed and blessed at the same time. The older I become, the greater, more expressive artist side of me emerges. And I cannot go back.

I see patterns in nature, human physiology and human relationships. I believe in authenticity and finding the highest Truth. I think there is great room in this world for more Beauty. We have enough shock and ugliness to satisfy the appetites of everything evil to the end of time. I believe all people should strive to achieve the highest Good whenever possible. That is what I believe I am meant to do and I choose to evoke those principles in every adventure, every endeavor, every healing and every artistic opportunity. Nature is complicated, not because all of its parts are complicated, but because there are thousands of simple organisms with simple behaviors that connect together. And the sum of the parts integrating together is greater, more extraordinary than just the simple sum of each individual part together. Things that seemingly have no relationship to each other are in fact acting in synergy. And all of those who are blind, cannot and will not see any of it. The curse of the artist eye is to see all of it and stand alone. I have no plans to stop healing those who come to me for help. I would like to integrate more creation into my life so that the insatiable desire to create new things is somewhat satisfied.

An artist must feel dissatisfied with his or her work, strive to find perfection and have emotional deep pain within themselves in order to create. The act of creation somehow assuages the agony momentarily which drives the artist to create more. New ideas stream into an artist's head from an intelligent source remote to the artist, some call it genius. Whatever it is, I intend on staying open to it. I have more to do.

Which means I cannot abandon the Art of Medicine. Perhaps limit it, but I can never leave it.

Doc
Posted by Amanda Sanders at 9:18 AM
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