Dr. Kebba S. Bojang: Every Doctor is a Poet
All doctors are poets. No doubt about that. Going through medical school, as one is minted to become a doctor, a poet is made of him or her too. They become experts in the use of literal, grammatical and medical metaphors. The language of medicine is poetry; and poetry is healing.
A doctor’s approach to patients is steeped in poetry. Every aspect of it is characterized by typical features of poetry.
There is rhythm to the way patients are clerked. There is beauty to the way their history is presented. So, when one goes off a note, they will be alerted that the line they just recited was off the beat and out of rhythm. So, they have to go back on it. In patient examination and its presentation is where the esthetic aspect of poetry is brought to the fore. It is beautiful and mind blowing. During it, everyone will be drawn in; keenly following the beautiful lines as they are recited. It is the first moment of revelation, the verdict at the interface of the symptoms and the signs—the history the patients give and the story their bodies tell—whether they are in sync or out of order. Or, a discovery of new features. This is where suspense at line breaks is most intense, and transition between stanzas in terms of different systems in systemic examination, is most anticipated. And then, the deliberations in differential diagnosis, investigations, the diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.
Furthermore, the image of different abdominal incision sites is a mark of shape poetry. Take a look at it and you will be wowed! During operations, there is poetry in motion in the way incisions are made, suturing is done, and suture knots are tied; and in the passing of instruments.
Use of mnemonics is a creative use of language which is a quality characteristic of poetry. The study and then the practice of medicine is littered with mnemonics; making them a sine qua non in the field. They provide imagery to help one easily remember causes and features of conditions. And, mostly importantly, the course of action in attending to, especially emergency, cases.
Well, there will be those who will contend that there can’t be any beauty to that which is centred around ill-health or sickness. Notwithstanding, where I am from, there is a saying: “Moo maŋ miŋ loŋ, wo bika a ñaaboo” (one doesn’t appreciate (or value) what one doesn’t know). Know: in terms of history, symbolism, significance or familiarity. So, for some of us, the poetic language of medicine, when recited in the right tone and diction; is calming, invigorating, and fulfilling—it gives us goose bumps.