When it comes to international aid, attempts to improve public health, assist in development, and respond to natural disasters can be thwarted by political strife and global economic inequality that stretch far beyond the control of the individuals whose lives are at stake. In this context, expertise in the culture, history, and language of a country, in addition to scientific and medical knowledge, can go a long way toward improving the potential success of public health policies and interventions.
The cholera epidemic that spread in Haiti nine months after the 2010 earthquake, for example, was started by U.N. peacekeeping forces, but only six years after its initial outbreak did the U.N. admit it played a role in the affair. In an effort to understand how deeply-rooted assumptions about a culture can have significant impact on public health policy, Lesley S. Curtis, Vital’s Editor-in-Chief and scholar of Haitian Studies, interviewed Jonathan M. Katz, the journalist whose investigation first revealed the U.N.’s responsibility for the epidemic and the author of The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. Continue reading →
It is not uncommon for scholars to spend so much of their time focused on books and the ideas held in them that they neglect physical activity, which is just as well, because strengthening the body is still deemed a less rigorous or less sophisticated pursuit within some corners of the professional cultural climate. This old idea still has broader influence. We almost take it for granted that one can’t be both intellectual and athletic. Just think of common stereotypes: the nerdy kid with glasses who doesn’t know how to throw a pass or, conversely, the high school football star who can’t pass his classes.
The pressure to focus so intensely on the intellectual side of life can be particularly intense for humanists, whose research less often concerns the physical body and more often focuses on human creation, its ideas, formation, and influence. In this funny and insightful essay, Ben Utter, a specialist in the literature, culture, and history of the Middle Ages, “confesses” to his hypothetical humanist professor that he has, in fact, abandoned his life of the mind to pursue, at times, a life of the body. This essay highlights the tension present in a professional culture that privileges one over the other and, through an expertly detailed historical analysis of this juxtaposition, invites us to reconsider the concept of dividing mind and body in the first place. Continue reading →
What American History Can Tell Us about Health and Social Change
Today, health and healthcare are hotly debated political issues. We are also witnessing a resurgence of civil rights movements that call attention to race, gender, sexuality, ability, age, and structural inequality. American history shows us, though, that grassroots, patient-centered change actually flourishes in times of concentrated civil rights activity. What we can learn from this history is that health is not merely an objective state of physical being. It is also, and perhaps first and foremost, a lived experience in a political, economic, and social climate. Continue reading →
On a brisk February morning in 2014, Dan Nuzzo woke up gasping for air. His heart was racing and he could no longer sleep. That moment, Dan explained, was his “lowest point” since his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis two years before. Indeed, at this time, his symptoms were so severe that he postponed his physical therapy training for a second time. Continue reading →
A Review of Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air
A young neurosurgeon’s heartbreaking memoir is also a testament to the importance of the humanities to medical education.
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