Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Art and Medicine

Since the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the AAOS had a special display of art by patients and surgeons at its annual conference earlier this month in San Francisco. I first noticed the exhibit, called eMotion Pictures: An Exhibition of Orthopaedics in Art, as I was hurrying into Moscone West to catch a session I was covering on the third floor.

In the press room, I picked up a book the AAOS had put together describing the artwork, and I paged through it in my few quiet moments. By the end of the week, I had passed by the large bridge-shaped sculpture “Bone Rainbow” many times, although I did not initially notice that the bridge’s crossbars were made of bronze femurs. The artist, Ruth Cozen Snyder, had been injured in a car accident, and said in her artist’s statement that creating art had helped her cope with and recover from her injuries. Much of the patient art I saw and read about tried to make sense of, and rise above, the pain and disability that many patients faced.

My favorite piece was a painting by an orthopoaedic surgeon, called “Nothing About You Without You.” In the painting, a patient with a cast on his right foot and a sombrero hiding his face straddles a chair next to a vivid orange wall, the colors and clothing reminiscent of Central or South America. I was struck by the description of the work by the artist, S. Terry Canale, MD, who said that “with an increasingly diverse patient population, [orthopaedic surgeons] need to become more culturally competent, treating patients of all cultures with respect and practicing patient-centered care.”

The Journal of the American Medical Association always features artwork on its cover, as an antidote perhaps to the technical articles inside. At the AAOS conference, it was refreshing to see such striking artwork as I ducked in and out of PowerPoint presentations featuring sutured knees, diseased hips, and MRSA infection statistics. It was a reminder that there are human beings on either side of the scalpel.

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