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Picturing Pain

Picturing Pain

When darkness comes ... And pain is all around ... Like a bridge over troubled water ... I will lay me down.
"Bridge Over Troubled Water," Paul Simon


It is an unfortunate truth that pain, in its many manifestations, indeed is all around. By encouraging patients to illustrate their pain with images such these from the exhibition Pain, the Center for Educational Development and Research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA hopes to compel viewers to better understand those going through illness. Click here to view slideshow.

The pain of loneliness. The pain of post-traumatic stress. The pain of spinal stenosis, of uterine fibroids, of mortality. How to explain one’s pain to another person, to make it real for someone else? By drawing it.

To help UCLA medical students understand the experience of pain and illness and to reinforce in them that as physicians they must treat the person and not just the disease, Pain, an exhibition of postcards drawn by patients, has been put on display in the medical school’s Gallery at the Learning Resource Center through August 31, 2014.

  Pain, an exhibition of postcards drawn by patients
  Pain, an exhibition of postcards drawn by patients
  The copious response to his call for images surprised gallery curator and guest artist Ted Meyer. “I am amazed that one word, pain, could evoke so many different interpretations,” he says. Opposite Page: “I Have Multiple What?,” Darlene Mellein, Sherman Oaks, California. Top: “Anxiety” series, Liz Atkin, London, England. Bottom: “Depiction of a Spinal Fusion,” Heather Circle, Alpine, California. Images: Courtesy of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

One hundred sixty-five postcards were mailed to UCLA from people all over the world. “I expected to receive artwork about physical pain, like broken legs,” says gallery curator and guest artist Ted Meyer, who in his own work mixes art and medical images as a way to understand his childhood experiences of illness. “But nearly half of the cards were about emotional pain. That really surprised me.”

To solicit the artwork, Meyer placed notices on Facebook and websites dedicated to the niche of mail-in art. The artwork then came flooding in over two months, illustrating experiences from bunions and cystic fibrosis to pain caused by rape and anxiety. “In some cases, the two were linked, as in, ‘I suffered this injury or disease and now I’m depressed,’” Meyer says.

The exhibition is one of four that are put on each year as part of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA’s doctoring program. In addition to the art exhibits, the three-year doctoring curriculum includes actors and role-playing to explore disease from the patient’s perspective and teach medical students the empathy and listening skills they need to become compassionate caregivers.

“A patient experiences illness in a very different way than a physician does,” says LuAnn A. Wilkerson, EdD, senior associate dean for medical education. “These exhibits target mostly first- and secondyear students, who haven’t yet been immersed in the clinical setting. For them, disease is still a textbook concept.”

Each exhibit of artwork in the gallery program ties thematically to what students are studying in the classroom. Previous shows have focused on cancer, multiple sclerosis, migraine, Alzheimer’s disease, developmental disabilities, sexually transmitted diseases and back pain.

“Art can capture a multitude of meanings and help us see the world in different ways, including understanding what it’s like to live with illness,” Dr. Wilkerson observes. “Pain is considered unpleasant, something to be observed from a distance. We hope these images achieve the opposite, by compelling viewers to draw closer and consider how pain affects the whole person.”

To view a slideshow of additional images from Pain, click on the link to this article at magazine.uclahealth.org, or go to the Gallery at the Learning Resource Center website: www.medsch.ucla.edu/lrcgallery

 





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