The Physiology of Inspiration

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Lessons from the Classics.

Or, the Physiology of Inspiration.

There are some elements essential for our existence as humans on this planet. You know, the usual; oxygen, neurotransmitters, the superior mesenteric artery, and love, in one form or another. I’d like to add another to that list, that of storytelling. Fiction. Literature. Well, if perhaps not essential, at least fairly fundamental.

This strange little talk, ‘Lessons from the Classics’, tolerated at SMACC13 (a conference at the vanguard of critical care meetings) was given to celebrate an oft-neglected part of our lives. All literature has at its heart the souls of people; those who are great, small, conflicted, brave, scared, confronted, and all other imaginable traits. Individuals who are characterized by every conceivable shape of prose, every melody of poetry and every mellifluous and artfully arranged word.

Far from being removed from that world of fiction and legend, we in critical care should perhaps embrace it more than any. We, whose workaday lives are anchored in the cold steel of science, are intimately connected with characters who are at their most vulnerable; patients who are in pain, need, trouble or otherwise slammed up against the very edge of their resources and capabilities. The great authors not only give us the gift of empathy with our fellow humans through their enlightened creation of characters, they also reflect upon the characteristics we have inside ourselves. This talk looked at some of these facets, the qualities that we can find within ourselves and each other, found in masterful literary works. Qualities such as bearing witness, education of others, leadership, compassion and humour.

And lastly, the purpose of the talk was not only to remind us that our tough path can be illuminated by reading great works of literature, but was also to encourage you to write, and to show you that writing creatively and inventively can help you through the exigency and the vicissitudes of this crazy life.

Words have power.

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