“sit down at a typewriter and bleed” by Emilie Pine

What if my body could tell a story?
What would it say?

I think it would talk about blood, its mesmerising flow and its ebb.
About ending and renewing.

I think it would talk  about the touch of my fingers and my hands and another's lips.
The feel of skin on skin. Wet and slow. Soft and hard.
The shock of cold, the pleasure of warmth.

I think it would talk about the delight of orgasm 
and the delight of laughter
and the delight of sating hunger.

About tasting sharp and spicy, soothing and creamy.

I think it would talk about looking out and pulling in.

I think it would talk about perfume and stink.
About clean and dirty.
I think it would talk about illness and recovery
about fortitude and growth.
I think it would talk about loss and grief.
About standing solo and holding together.
About longevity and transformation.
About satisfaction. About happiness. About joy.

I think it would sound strong.
I think it would sound loud.
I think it would sound proud.

And I am listening.

And this, this is what it looks like when a woman bleeds onto the page.

from Emilie Pine’s Notes to Self: ‘Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes’

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Irish Times – Unsupported, rushed and unheard: Report reveals women’s experiences in healthcare

The report says that for many, experiences with healthcare are positive, with open and trusted relationships with GPs referenced, effective communication in acute care, and access to services, including tailored female-centric services, when it comes to screening. In terms of maternity care, many also said they had positive experiences, highlighting “listening and empathy, right services, aftercare and engagement with the mother”.

Full article: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/unsupported-rushed-and-unheard-report-reveals-women-s-experiences-in-healthcare-1.4674190

Here’s the taskforce’s webpage https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/-womens-health/#

And click here for the report itself (Women’s Health Radical Listening Report 2021) >>

Pain, described by Maggie O’Farrell

His head is filled with pain, like a bowl brimful of scalding water. It is a strange, confusing kind of pain – it drives out all thought, all sense of action. It saturates his head, spreading itself to the muscles and focus of his eyes; it tinkers with the roots of his teeth, with the byways of his ears, the paths of his nose, the very shafts of his hair. It feels enormous, significant, bigger than him.

from Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

‘Pure, liquid hope’: what the vaccine means to me as a GP – Gavin Francis

Giving a vaccination is about the simplest medical encounter it’s possible to have, though among the most transformative. … The numbers are daunting, but there’s a spirit of anticipation and celebration in the air. Many are starting to dare to plan for a world post-Covid, and I’m tempted to share that optimism. Opening my first box of vials, I thought of a friend in Orkney, a GP who’d already vaccinated all the over-80s of his practice, and who’d begun to call in the over-70s. We met briefly in Kirkwall, outdoors, on my journey from Orkney back to Edinburgh. “How did it feel to get started?” I asked him.

From https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/feb/11/pure-liquid-hope-what-coronavirus-covid-vaccine-means-to-a-gp-doctor

The nurse stands in their place – Doireann Ní Ghríofa

I watch a screen assembled around their baby, a boundary intended to generate an illusion of privacy. The screen cannot mute the infant’s screams, however, nor can it block the song of the nurses who stroke its brow, who coo as they hold it still for whatever agonies of syringe or cold scalpel that follow. This tiny howl is a sound I will never excise from my memory. I weep as I listen – I weep in helplessness, yes, but I also weep in gratitude for those nurses’ certainty that parents must spare themselves from witnessing a child’s agonies. The nurse insists. The nurse stands in their place.

from Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat

Medical gaslighting: The women not listened to or viewed as overdramatising or catastrophising

Dr Marie Theresa Ferretti, neuroscientist, co-founder and CSO of the Women’s Brain Project, says the same symptoms that tend to be attributed to organic disease in men, are much more likely to be diagnosed as anxiety or panic attacks in women. Women with acute pain are less likely to get opioid drugs and more likely to receive sedatives. Dr Ferretti views the recognition of mental health issues in women as a positive, but she argues that it becomes problematic if doctors dismiss the original symptoms because the women may end up with an incorrect diagnosis or ongoing pain.

See here for full Irish Times article >>>

Roddy Doyle’s short story, ‘Nurse’

They washed him. And they spoke to him. They told him what they were doing, even though he was dead. She said nothing at first, then she copied Áine, the senior staff nurse. We’re turning you onto your side now, Joe. It was easier when you talked to him. No one spoke when Áine closed the first body bag. The rasp of the zip, like it was being pulled through wood – it’s the last thing she’ll hear when she closes her eyes. When she goes to bed.

Read the full story here on the Irish Times website >>>

New term: new texts: new normal?

The Covid-19 pandemic is so ubiquitous it would be perverse not to focus on it in this year’s Literature & Medicine module, so we are. (Having said that, I’m planning be perverse in the second term and escape from the pandemic, metaphorically, into Elaine Feeney’s As You Were.)

The low-hanging, extremely appealing option (though problematic in a number of respects) would be Camus’ deep-dive novel, The Plague, of course. But as I’m determined to play my part in overturning the patriarchy, I cannot ignore the almost complete absence of female characters in that novel (not to mention native Algerians); and anyhow I want to put female authors first. (I will, however, be quoting from Camus where it sheds additional light on the theme.)

So, without any reservations, I’m opting for Emma Donoghue’s just-published The Pull of the Stars. It is set in Dublin in 1918, with a focus on the suffering caused by the Spanish Flu as reflected in one small hospital ward. Another plus is that is narrated by a woman. And another is that she is a nurse. Another is that it is a maternity ward. All fitting in perfectly with the underlying (occasionally explicit) principles of my courses.

Additional reading:

Fergus Shanahan’s new study The Language of Illness, especially the last chapter, ‘The Language of Plagues and Pandemics’ > https://libertiespress.com/product/the-language-of-illness/ (Here’s a link to the recent launch of that book > https://youtu.be/6UilktxKLVc and I’d particularly draw your attention in our context to the contribution of Professor Mary Horgan of UCC, consultant in infectious diseases.)

Michael D Higgin’s speech from last year on remembering the Spanish Flu > https://president.ie/en/diary/details/president-hosts-a-reception-commemorating-the-great-flu-epidemic-of-1918-1919/speeches

Surprisingly, at least to me, we are running the classes, at least for now, face-to-face, in a classroom. So, I’ll be feeling a bit anxious, and I imagine some or all of the students will be too. While reading and talking about a deadly virus that spread rapidly through communities across the globe 100 years ago, specifically in Dublin city centre, we’ll be doing our best to avoid contributing to the spread of another deadly virus, specifically in Dublin city centre. If we’re not careful, we could end up creating the perfect setting for a new work of existential fiction.