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Med Students Explore the Poetics of Life and Death

August 12, 1996

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) _ For anyone who’s ever tried to decipher a doctor’s scribbled prescription, the idea of medical students putting together a magazine to showcase their writing might tickle a funny bone.

But that’s exactly what the doctors-in-training are doing at Southern Illinois University’s medical school. For three years, students have explored the poetic possibilities of such things as left-sided hemiparesis in their annual literary magazine, Scope.

``You need to find time to be a human being and not just get so caught up in your schooling that you forget about all the other things that are important to you,″ said Ann Spires, a student from Chicago. ``Writing is almost like a form of meditation for me. It takes me away from the books and the hospital.″

Contributors also include faculty, graduates, friends and family members.

About 1,200 free copies of this spring’s 34-page issue were distributed at the school as well as to hospitals, doctors and health-care facilities around the country. Paid subscriptions are being offered for the first time this year.

Nicole Webel, a student from Carbondale who wants to specialize in family practice, won first prize in Scope’s poetry contest for ``The Silence of June,″ her real-life story of a stroke patient. It reads in part:

Unresponsive, he lies in his hospital bed

A different man from that time

He heard his newborn daughter’s cry ...

The click of the air conditioner is the only sound

As I gently pull the blankets around him.

And wonder why hospital rooms always feel so cold.

``I wrote it because I just had to,″ Webel said. ``It just needed to be said because it kind of embodied a lot of moments that are found in medicine.″

Besides poetry and prose, the magazine also features sketches, painting and photographs, most of which don’t even mention medicine. There are color photos of an Eskimo woman and a snowy forest, a poem extolling the beauty of autumn, and a doctor’s reminiscence of watching ants fight to the death when he was a boy.

Of course, writers and poets in white coats is not a revolutionary concept. One of America’s best poets, William Carlos Williams, was a family doctor in New Jersey. Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was trained as a physician.

``A lot of times, we are required to keep in what we see and what we go through,″ said Manish Kohli, a medical student from Chicago who helped start the magazine. ``This is a very constructive way of letting some of the steam out.″

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