narrative medicine

Coming out

I heard Rafael Campo speak yesterday, and I fell in love. (Is it ok for a straight woman to be in love with a gay man? Whatever, my other big crush is E.M. Forster, so I’m a lost cause.)

I’ve admired Rafael Campo’s poetry since I was an undergraduate, so it was kind of cool to see him in person. He was not at all how I imagined him. In place of the tall, thin, almost gaunt man in my head, I saw this very avuncular fellow at the podium, smiling so much at time you couldn’t see his eyes.

One of the things he said that really resonated was about his coming out. He said that when he entered medical school, he was a little nervous because he was not your typical Harvard medical student. Cuban-American, gay… but it was his coming out as a poet that really scared people.

And when he said that, you could see the ripple spreading through the room. Laughter, yes, but also nodding heads, recognition, people turning to their neighbors and whispering “Him too?”

I don’t know what it is about this work we do that so frightens people. I mean, really frightens. I’ve had to justify myself so many times that I’m thinking of printing up cards and handing them out. Lots of people get it, right off the bat, congratulate me, want to hear more. Others mock me. Still others rant about how “soft” skills are ruining medicine.

If you think literary studies are soft, I invite you to read “Can the Subaltern Speak?” and tell me — PLEASE — what it means.

But for now, I leave you with something more delightful, and to my mind deeper, than Gayatri Spivak’s take on postcolonialism.

What is the color of the mind? Beneath
The cranium it’s pinkish grey, with flecks
Of white mixed in. What is the mind’s motif?
Depends on what you mean: it’s either sex
Or it’s a box, release or pessimism.
Remember these three things: ball, sorrow, red.
Count backwards from one-hundred down by sevens.
What is the color of the mind? It’s said
That love can conquer all – interpret please.
And who’s the President? What year is it?
The mind is timeless, dizzy, unscrupulous;
The mind is sometimes only dimly lit.
Just two more silly questions: Can you sing
For us? Do you remember those three things?

-Rafael Campo, “The Mental Status Exam.”

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2 thoughts on “Coming out

    1. I love the mental status exam, but as a neurologist-to-be, and maybe behavioralist, I’m biased. The poem opens out all the beauty and wonder of the mind, which we all sometimes forget amidst the spelling WORLD backwards and 5-minute recall.

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