Comedy and Medicine

Lauren+R.+Weinstein
Lauren R. Weinstein

Lauren R. Weinstein

Lauren R. Weinstein

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What is so funny about Medicine?

Well, apparently a whole lot according to the leading practitioner of Graphic Medicine, a new form of medical communication between doctors and patients. A transition into a modern age of informing, relating, and touching the minds and souls of men, women, and children during hard times of health and well being. Comic-like illustrations to go along with a story that can be used as a way of keeping patients optimistic and provide a sense of relief knowing that you are not alone in this world.

A new term being used by publishers, illustrators, and scientists around the globe, Graphic Medicine, refers to the use of visual art and comics in order to paint a more relatable picture for those dealing with health issues either themselves, or found in someone close to their heart. Graphic medicine is a vibrant and growing field. Physicians recognize the power of visual images and storytelling to educate and communicate with their patients. And patients have embraced graphic memoirs to powerfully describe their illness experiences. We have seen something similar to this method in music, street art and even photography. This brings a new perspective to coping with the mental frustrations and stress those are overwhelmed by. These notes were all provided during the presentation by a published author, with such a young yet successful career thus far. Having finished 3 books, receiving recognition from The Best American Comics, An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, The Graphic Cannon, and earning a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators for her piece “Carriers” featured in The New York Times and The Paris Review.

Lauren R. Weinstein, a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, and now teaching teens and adults at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, took the time out of her busy schedule to speak at the Comedy and Medicine Event organized by professor Elizabeth Donaldson on April 28th which took place in the 500 building were roughly 30 students, faculty, and staff gathered to see what this Comedy and Medicine mumbo jumbo was all about. Turns out, it wasn’t all mumbo jumbo, and this idea of giving a medical patient the opportunity to laugh about a circumstance that might be incredibly difficult to deal with alone.

Before starting the workshop, Mrs. Weinstein shared a story that turned out to be one of her most awarded pieces of work, titled, Invisible Patients, Dementia takes a toll on caregivers, too. With over 15 million unpaid dementia caregivers in the U.S., Early Onset Alzheimer’s affects more than the host, it is the kind of disease that can destroy a family, spouse, husband, or caregiver, not just the patient.. In her illustration, she uses comics to describe how Meryl Comer, a well known broadcaster, and now leading advocate for Alzheimer’s research, dealt with her husband’s unfortunate development of dementia. Meryl herself wrote a New York Times Bestseller  Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and found in the age of Alzheimer’s. She elaborated on the amount of difficult scenarios a caregiver deals with on a daily basis by using images of  feeding, understanding, communicating, and sharing the lifetime bond with someone who simply does not remember. Using comics helps illustrate a more comprehensible picture of what dealing with a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s really feels like. It gives the reader a sense of relatability and comfort knowing that millions of others are under the similar circumstances.

In her own words, Lauren Weinstein defined Graphic Medicine as a handy term used to denote the role that comics can play in the study and delivery of healthcare. After informing us about her previous work, Mrs. Weinstein had those in attendance grab a few pieces of white printing paper and a booklet of comics. She said that the first step in cartooning is to create something simple that can take on an identity. After creating an avatar to be the main character in your story, you then decide how much time would be represented by the gutter or line that breaks up each story board picture. With comics you get to interact with the reader visually and intellectually. Comics and graphic novels can be used as a resource for health professionals playing a valuable role in reflecting or changing cultural perceptions of medicine, relating the subjective patient/caregiver/provider experience, and enabling discussions of difficult subjects. Dean Simon was in attendance Thursday, and asked Mrs. Weinstein if she feels that the reader will misinterpret her illustrations because they are open for each individual’s imagination. Weinstein responded “It’s exciting in my opinion and shows that my illustrations can be comprehended differently based on what kind of emotions you’re feeling at the moment. It gives my work a transparent vibe.”

In another illustration, Lauren described the 5 day emotional roller coaster after being told by a doctor they had to test her baby for Cystic Fibrosis, because her and her husband were both recessive carriers of the gene. Tossing and turning, what if’s, the stress of bringing a baby into the world knowing it will live a life of suffering. All of these thoughts, both irrational and complicated, rushed through her head, and would become the motivation to writing a beautiful piece on thinking, waiting, and taking the positives out of every situation. With a 75% chance the baby will be perfectly fine, Lauren depicted this image of her and her husband going crazy having to schedule appointments with specialists, taking blood and just being unsure of the whole situation. Of course the doctor’s would love to tell you everything will be OK, but in reality, if something is wrong or has the chance to be wrong he/she must be honest leaving the patient with the struggle of inhibition and disinhibition. So her whole outlook on the 75%-25% is something for interpretation by the reader. Do you see the 75% chance the baby will be healthy as a glass ¾ full idea and take those odds to Vegas, or dwell on the 25% chance Cystic Fibrosis could drastically change the path your baby’s life takes?

After the workshop event, I had the opportunity to ask Lauren what drives her to create more illustrations.

“The idea that I can connect with different people who might share similar experiences, and provide a method that can give people hope and comfort during hardship, drives me to write and put my thoughts on paper”. “If I can help just one person it makes it all the worthwhile, especially when I see comments and positive feedback on my work”.

I also reached out to Dr. Simon and asked him, being the Chairman of the Communication Arts Department, how this affects the Communications Major as a whole and what stood out as the most interesting aspect he took from this event.

We are always so committed to just one field or degree and this type of publication helps combine multiple fields. Science, Writing, Drawing, Psychology. Even the simplest drawings, as seen here today, can have such a large impact on others”.

The event was a great success. Mothers, who are now caregivers in their own way, that attended were so amazed at how even the simplest illustrations combined with relatable medical experiences painted such a beautiful and descriptive image. Even I, as a Communication Arts Major, was taken back on just how powerful Graphic Medicine can be. It’s a gateway to new platforms for communication, and a technique that might change the way others juggle the emotions of dealing with illness, disease, and distress.

To view Mrs. Weinsteins work, I highly recommend visiting her website laurenweinstein.com and see for yourself how strong the writer to reader connection is using Graphic Medicine.

Also follow her on Twitter @Vineshtein to ask questions and get an inside look at her illustrations.

Girl Stories (2006), a book by Lauren R. Weinstein

Girl Stories (2006), a book by Lauren R. Weinstein

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