The Art of Medicine

Read by Chris Barnes
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Finding a window in the sitter’s diary proved quite tricky. Communication was established through his secretary until he intervened himself to arrange a ‘sitting’. He is like other oncologists and health care staff in many respects and health care staff in general, but, as an artist, he identified to some degree with the writer. They both belonged to the group of artists (which seeks to be outside distinctions of class and social status) and his circle of friends included actors and other arts practitioners. Later in the conversation, the sitter specifically notes a group of ‘people like us’ (General Practitioners) who deal with suffering on the front line. He speaks of himself by reference to his children, who are like him in some respects but set on different paths. Other sitters, in contrast, spoke of themselves by reference to ancestry (see Per Ardua ad Astra).

People Like You’ hosted a series of Science Cafes at Maggie’s (2018-2019) with Kelly Gleason, CRUK Senior Research Nurse on the topic of Personalised Cancer Medicine (see Detectives). The sitter’s presentation detailed a twenty-year odyssey to develop a drug with his long time colleague. He acknowledged that a lot of cancer treatment can be virtually intolerable even as it holds illness at bay. Only through trial and error do oncologists and their patients discover who can and who cannot tolerate different regimens.

The effluvium
of the common cold
is about him.

“Dealing with dying people
makes you weary,”
he says
with disarming frankness.
“I try to look for ways of amalgamating
the science I do with painting.”

A life-long practice of painting
and a passion for research
restore the senses and spirit
dulled by forty years as a cancer doctor –
a synthesis of the Apollonian
and Dionysian
at odds with the modern view
of Art and Science
as polar opposites.

Like the double-edged arrows
of Apollo,
drugs have the power to heal
or bring devastation
on the houses of his patients.
Etched on memory
are “horrific scenarios.”

Yet the pictures on his phone –
belying the breadth of the canvas –
are not medieval graphics from Hell.
Figures dance a red roundelay,
rest in a symphony of quiet curves.
The “useful” vanishes
in a world of magical realism.

To allow for this,
make time
for family and friends
and the final tranche
of the camino from Seville to Santiago,
he goes from five to three days a week,
obeying what is “spiritually good.”

In the Science Cafe at Maggie’s
waiting his turn
lip on knuckle
he is Rodin’s Thinker.

with a performer’s nous
“gets in there” with his audience –
explainer, explorer, examiner,
humanising data,
telling of mischievous drugs
dancing a pharmaceutical jig,
the need to empty friendly pockets
to raid the genetic arc.

“In Science you have an idea
and spend the next fifteen years
finding out if it’s right,”
he sighs,
envies friends who are
actors, writers.
But the oncologist’s zeal

he offered to set up
a self-help group for doctors
“the armour to deal with suffering.”
The response was dismal.

He has four children
he says
and none of them
are taking up medicine.

A boyish grin
breaks the composure
of the gaze
like an escaped photon.