Literature & Medicine in Action: Reflections on a White House Visit
Gatherings of United Stated military veterans grab the heart—on parade, in advocacy groups, at other significant events.For those of us who are not Veterans, we give their impenetrable solidarity its due not as a matter of shared experience; rather, we do so out of respect for sacrifice and for enduring the traumatic.However, on Wednesday, 16 November, at the Old Executive Office Building at the White House complex, Veterans and members of the humanities community, including the National Federation of State Humanities Councils and their stakeholders gathered to acknowledge that there are, in fact, ways to illuminate the Veteran’s experience so that caregivers and others can better appreciate its dimensions.The appeal, of course, is to the humanities.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) offered “Using the Humanities to Support the Veteran Community” and highlighted a Maine Humanities Council-led program that now plays out in 20 VA facilities in 14 States.Jean Wortman, who organizes the Maryland Humanities Council (MHC) component of the Literature & Medicine program, was present, along with Phoebe Stein Davis, our Executive Director, Board members, and participants in the program as it takes place in Baltimore.NEH Humanities Chairman Jim Leach introduced the session, which engaged a broad audience in responding to a poem about airborne medical care and its sequelae:AB Negative (The Surgeon’s Poem) by Brian Turner.The conversation was stunning.The audience was moved.And once again, disparate individuals were able to rely upon the humanities to expose the universal in the unique and learn how such conversations in the health care environment are able to bolster empathic communication so generally needed in the hospital setting and so critically required among those who care for our Veterans.
Later in the afternoon, we also saw how New York’s Aquila Theater used the award-winning “Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives” program to place today’s combat veterans in a timeless setting.I was proud to be there among my MHC colleagues, program participants, and many others.But my mind kept drifting to the airborne poem and wondering whether the fact that its subject played out at an altitude of 10,000 feet made the subject soar in a heavenward direction, or simply elevated our discourse.In the end, what matters more is that all were in its grasp.
Photo From Left to Right (MHC Lit & Med Program Officer Jean Wortman, Baltimore VA participants Frank Williams Jr. and Mary Ann Wilkinson, MHC Executive Director Dr. Phoebe Stein Davis, and Baltimore VA participant Linda Keldsen.
The author, Adrianne Noe, is a member of the Board of the Maryland Humanities Council and a Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Association, an organization that fosters understanding of human health and medical issues at extreme altitude. She attended the November 16th presentation at the White House, “Using the Humanities to Support the Veteran Community.”