The maiden event of medpoetry (medical poetry), Convene in Medpoetry, was held on Saturday, January 21, at the Blaque Magique Bistro and Café, Senegambia strip, organized by the Team Medpoetry (TMp). Medpoetry is poetry that expresses an individual’s medical experience or feeling in terms of: ill health and all it encompasses, health care providers, their celebration and appreciation. It is also about expression of love and fulfilment, disappointment and despair medically.
The event was well attended in terms of numbers and personalities. There were four components: poetry, narrative-cum-testimony, conversation with the audience and musical performance.
In his introductory and welcoming remarks, Dr. Kebba S. Bojang, the originator of the medpoetry initiative, or “the Medpoetry Project” as he describes it, stated that the aim of the Convene in Medpoetry, was to bring people together, for the first time in The Gambia, and by extension in West Africa, to share their medical experiences and feelings in poetry and narrative as part of the process of introducing and promoting this poetry genre to our part of the world.
He went on to say that although it may be surprising to many, healing essentially started with poetry well before Hippocrates brought science into the picture. The recognition of the value of poetry in modern medicine as in the synergistic relationship between medicine and the humanities has led to the establishment of journals of medical humanities in the US and UK featuring poetry and medical narratives. In addition, a number of top medical journals in the world also feature poetry with some websites dedicated specifically to it. Around the world, competitions for medical poetry are held on a regular basis, one of which is the Hippocrates prize for Poetry and Medicine which has been held every year since 2009.
In Scotland, he continued, the Royal College of GPs together with the Scottish Poetry Society have, since 2014, been publishing a book entitled: “Tools of the Trade: Poems for new doctors” which is distributed free to every new medical graduate in that country to help them think with compassion and personal resilience in the face of challenges in their work as doctors.
Clinicians caring for patients have a responsibility to both treat and heal. Narrative and poetry can deepen the understanding of patients about themselves and their illnesses as well as enhance understanding between them and their caregivers leading to compassion which facilitates healing.
With regard to health care providers, poetry teaches creative thinking, which is of great value to any caregiver. It enhances the ability to interpret metaphors which is a critical skill in diagnosis as patients’ symptoms often present in a metaphorical manner. “Current evidence-based data suggests that reflective writing makes healthcare workers better observers as well as more empathetic caregivers.” Teaching poetry to medical students helps them listen better and preserves empathy.
It has been demonstrated through MRI that reciting poetry engages the primary reward circuitry in the brain, called the mesolimbic pathway, leading to reduction in pain and the use and dosage of opioids. Passive listening to poetry in hospitalized has been found to reduce pain and improve hope scores. Cancer patients who read poetry together have been found to have decreased pain, overcome depression, and have improved quality of life.
According to Dr. Bojang, it was the recognition of the role of poetry in the modern practice of medicine
that motivated the core Medpoetry founders to come together in November 2019 to form the Medpoetry: Healing Words group, with the aim of introducing medical poetry to The Gambia by providing a platform where just anyone can share their pieces . Also, in the long run, to see medpoetry recited in all medical cum health programs, to organize medpoetry get-togethers, then to organize Medpoetry competitions and or awards. Their greatest achievement to date, he went on to say, was publication of the book: “Healing Words: Medical Poetry and Prose”, an international collaboration work featuring poems and prose narratives from all over the world, which was featured on BBC.
During the maiden event, the medpoems presented were: “Obstructed Sight” by Cheryl Gabche Asokwa, a medical student from the University of The Gambia (UTG); “You are not Alone” by Ousman Demba, a nurse and a member of TMp; “Liver Failure” by Amadou Jarju, a nurse anaesthetist and member of TMp; “COVID-19 Co-nurse” by Baba Sawo, a nurse and a member of TMp; “Who am I? Ode to a Nurse” by Momodou Lamin Manjang, a nurse; “’Dopil Dom’” by Muna Sillameh, a nursing student and a member of TMp; “Never Say Never” by Ya Asentewa Jobarteh, a political science student at the UTG; “Doctor, here is Gambia” by Dr. Bojang himself; and “Doctor on the other side” by Dr. Mustapha Bittaye, the Director of Health Services at Ministry of Health. Joy Buchanan, a member of TMp, currently back in UK, had the video of her piece “Comfort” projected on screen at the event.
The Blaque Magique poets who presented at the event were: Ousman Barrow, the Last Poet King, Muhammed Nyang and Adama Mboge.
The narrative component of the event is rooted in a new discipline in medical practice called narrative medicine. Narrative medicine is “an approach that utilizes people’s narratives in clinical practice, research, and education as a way to promote healing”. It is is a commitment to understanding patients’ lives, caring for the caregivers, and giving voice to the suffering.”
Dr. Momodou Lamin Jobarteh in his narrative ,“As Doctors, We Cried”, gave an account of how two patients died on him and a colleague whilst on duty at an emergency department because of a lack of an essential medical supply. The trauma and the sadness of that event was overwhelming for them so much so that even as doctors they broke into tears – only to be consoled by the families of the deceased instead of the other way round. Fatoumatta S. Jallow, a nursing student, gave a narration “Quest for Understanding”. It was about a sister suffering from mental illness since childhood and her journey to have a better understanding of her illness. Latirr Carr, the Proprietor of Blaque Magique, gave a testimony as a way of celebrating Gambian health care workers by giving an account of him and his son’s medical journey in seeking care with him being operated on seven times, and a tumour being removed from his son, all of which was done in The Gambia successfully. Muna Sillameh gave a moving account of a patient she had to escort from Basse to Bansang on account of maternal bleeding which was what inspired her piece “Nopil Dom”.
The event was graced by Hon. Bakary Badjie, the Minister of Youth and Sport, who gave a statement encouraging these types of events and that his ministry is opened to support Team Medpoetry in such kinds of endeavours since its members include youths. Dr. Kabir Cham, the Registrar of the Medical and Dental Council of The Gambia, commended the organisers and gave suggestions as how to make it bigger. Prof. Egbuna Obidike of the post graduate training program of EFSTH also gave words of commendation and recommended that the organisers involve the ministry of culture in their future activities as it goes beyond health. Dr. Mustapha Bittaye, Director of Health Services; Dr. Fatoumatta Dibba, assistant director of Health Services; Dr. Oni Adeyemi, the president of the Gambia Association of Resident Doctors(GARD), Mr. Adama Jallow, representing the Registrar of the Gambia Nursing and Midwives’ council; Ms. Haddy Dibba, Head of Products at Standard Chartered Bank Gambia, Mr. Bakary Fatty of GRTS, and Mr. Madi Jobarteh were other personalities who graced the event.
Barhama Cham and Jali Batch provided the entertainment. The program was broadcast live on EFSTH TV.