Having attended my very first Comics and Medicine Conference in order to present One of Those People with John, I feel obliged to report on the experience. The short version is that it was Amazing.
The longer version is that it was an incredible experience, both from a personal perspective, but also from a public health perspective. The breadth of topics that were covered: medical memoir from both the doctor and the patient’s perspective, both patient narrative and narratives from caregivers, using comics for public health campaigns from Fairfax, VA to Mumbai, India, academics analyzing medical narrative in the comics medium through the lens of literary theory, the creative process as both a vehicle for healing and for change… I could go on and on but you get the idea. The opportunity to be surrounded by people who radiate creative energy and intellectual exploration like electricity (I know, horribly clichéd but true) although packed into two and a half very short days, was just terrific and I am so grateful I got to be a part of it.
It’s still hard, even a few days later, to organize my thoughts coherently just because there was such a volume of information and the entire event was so energizing, but I think because this event had such a particularly personal aspect for me I will focus on that.
John and I did a “lightening talk” which consisted of 20 slides and six minutes to speak about them. Since the project has been collaborative from the start, it seemed to make sense that we collaborate on the presentation as well, and we alternated speaking about the various slides which were illustrations from the project.
Certainly for me, simply standing up in front of a small auditorium of people and speaking honestly about my experiences, however briefly, was a very poignant moment. And certainly too, there is a tremendous amount of power contained in that small action of standing up and speaking your truth, especially after being so private and having so many secrets for so long. Someone asked me what it was like in that moment and the only thing I could think of is the feeling of standing in sunlight.
Listening to other people’s presentations, and just listening to other people over the two days in general I started to think more about what else I wanted to say with this narrative. As I said in the presentation, it’s not enough to say: “these bad things happened to me”. What I’d really like is for stories like mine to be catalysts for change. And I don’t think that is too lofty a goal.
One thing I heard over and over during the conference is that is that the graphics return the humanity to the medical experience. And not just for patient narratives – one of the most moving pieces I saw was a short animation of a junior doctor’s first experience with a patient dying. Frequently in medical situations, especially when a patient is frustrated or unhappy with the treatment, the language and the viewpoint used to narrate the situation becomes polarized, and using graphics affords the opportunity to return the humanity to both sides of equation.
The question now is where to go from here. Both John and I received some very positive feedback on the project, and while there is a lot more work to do I am optimistic that the work will have a wider audience at some point.