A Delightful Encounter between the Arts and Medicine

Although firmly grounded in science, there is no doubt that the day-to-day practice of medicine involves a fair amount of art. However, in the somewhat sterile world of the doctor’s consulting room, it is rare privilege to encounter “the arts” of the more creative, rather than clinical kind.

I encountered such a moment this morning while conducting a routine patient examination and it provided me with a delightful diversion from the more mundane activity of ticking check-boxes on an insurance form.

Now we have reached the trees,–the beautiful trees! never so beautiful as to-day. Imagine the effect of a straight and regular double avenue of oaks, nearly a mile long, arching overhead, and closing into perspective like the roof and columns of a cathedral, every tree and branch incrusted with the bright and delicate congelation of hoar-frost, white and pure as snow, delicate and defined as carved ivory. How beautiful it is, how uniform, how various, how filling, how satiating to the eye and to the mind–above all, how melancholy! There is a thrilling awfulness, an intense feeling of simple power in that naked and colourless beauty, which falls on the earth like the thoughts of death–death pure, and glorious, and smiling,–but still death. Sculpture has always the same effect on my imagination, and painting never. Colour is life.–We are now at the end of this magnificent avenue, and at the top of a steep eminence commanding a wide view over four counties–a landscape of snow. A deep lane leads abruptly down the hill; a mere narrow cart-track, sinking between high banks clothed with fern and furze and low broom, crowned with luxuriant hedgerows, and famous for their summer smell of thyme. How lovely these banks are now–the tall weeds and the gorse fixed and stiffened in the hoar-frost, which fringes round the bright prickly holly, the pendent foliage of the bramble, and the deep orange leaves of the pollard oaks! Oh, this is rime in its loveliest form! And there is still a berry here and there on the holly, ‘blushing in its natural coral’ through the delicate tracery, still a stray hip or haw for the birds, who abound here always. The poor birds, how tame they are, how sadly tame! There is the beautiful and rare crested wren, ‘that shadow of a bird,’ as White of Selborne calls it, perched in the middle of the hedge, nestling as it were amongst the cold bare boughs, seeking, poor pretty thing, for the warmth it will not find.

For a bit of fun, here is a brief quiz for your Tuesday afternoon:

1. In what clinical context would you find this piece of prose? What is an excerpt from? Who is the author?

2. How does it relate to this image? 

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3. Bonus points if you can work out the link between these and Jasper Fforde’s 2009 novel Shades of Grey?

First to answer gets love and admiration from colleagues for being an “arts in medicine” know-it-all.

(My answers in the comments, below)

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7 thoughts on “A Delightful Encounter between the Arts and Medicine

  1. Agree with Tim on prose and author.

    I am privy to the inside goss on the “answer” but will refrain from commenting. 🙂

    But the Jasper Fforde book is absolutely brilliant. Read it if you haven’t!

  2. Ok ok it’s a bit obscure….

    The Mitford passage is the text for the “Faculty of Ophthalmology approved” Sussex Near Vision Chart with text sizes increasing from N5 to N48. Interestingly, this is the mandatory near vision test for ADF aviation personnel.

    The music phrase is the “occupational assessment” part of the vision test chart, which is presumably only important for musicians (??). This is apparently “violin sized” print, although it looks to be a piano part… As a violinist myself, I can easily read the notation but whether or not I would be able to play anything written in B major (or G# minor?) is another matter all together! (Anything over 4 sharps is way out of my league). And do they have a piano / violin in the consultation room to be able to test it?? So confusing. I have no idea what piece it is from. I’d be curious to know, though.

    The characters in Fforde’s Shades of Grey sit an Ishihara colour test in their 20th year that determines their social class and future employment prospects. (It is a fantastic book – I highly recommend it). The Ishihara colour test is also used in real life medical assessments to assess red-green colour-blindness.

    So there you have it: ophthalmologically useful arts.

    In my defence, I had a three hour break between patients and had to find some way to keep myself amused…

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