Magic and Medicine:
A Professional Perspective
by Ricardo T. Rosenkranz, M.D.
Sure, I love the magical arts. And I have dedicated a significant portion of my life to medicine. But connecting them together has never been about my interests or me. Magic and Medicine intertwined in my life just as the two snakes encircle the rod of Hermes. But for what purpose?
For as long as I can remember, I have longed for a life of beneficial service. Painting a smile on someone’s face and pouring measures of hope into someone’s cup have been my fantasies, then dreams, then quests. I am no different than many of my colleagues in Medicine who enter the profession for the self-same reasons.
Today, however, the life of a physician seems to drift away from that fundamental, ventral, central goal of mine. Productivity, technology, competence, efficiency, evidence and proficiency are the terms that define our professional lexicon. And yet, we long for the true meaning of what we do. I know this because nearly every physician I meet reflects on the existence of this malaise and senses that our boat has indeed veered away. Is it unexpected? Not really. Today’s winds, forcibly swirling around the ship, are the product of the engine of progress. We hunger for more knowledge, want to have a bigger impact in the health of others, and strive for excellence and precision. It seems that since the 17th Century, when the Scientific Method gave rise to the modern view of Medicine, we have been sailing at vertiginous speeds, eradicating illnesses right and left. But where are we going?
Currents create winds and winds beget storms. Today, I would venture that we are adrift because we believe more in ship than sailor, more in GPS than captain, more in engine than ingenuity. The noise of the motor is so loud that it drowns out the voices of the most important ones, the oft forgotten reluctant passengers of this ship: the patients. Even the great William Osler, father of modern medicine said, "He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all."
That is where I have found the second snake of this caduceus I might call my life’s paradigm. I would like to think that she saw what was missing in my “Aesculapian Staff” and methodically embedded herself into my self-awareness. Her name is Magic, and she is teaching me to better understand the world of healing. Every night she reads to me from the books of Burger, McBride, Maven, Neale, and Hass, among others. She lifts a mirror towards my audience allowing me to see my patients’ hearts while my reflection sheds a painted smile. And it is through her that I have come to understand that which I already knew, yet needed to experience from the other side of the sail.
Today's Medicine, while breathtaking, needs a course correction. Medicine needs to pay heed to the balance of science and humanities. But this is not the only realm caught up in the storm of reductionism and practicality. It seems today that all educational endeavors are challenged by this concept. Recently, the presidents of Stanford University and Michigan (a computer scientist and a biochemist) published the following in the Washington Post:
"The humanities — history, literature, languages, art, philosophy — and the social sciences focus on the lasting challenges relevant to all of us: creating lives of purpose and meaning, appreciating diversity and complexity, communicating effectively with others and overcoming adversity. Ultimately, our ability to work meaningfully with others will determine the success of our enterprises, and that ability is honed through the humanities and social sciences."
In the world of the Caduceus, I firmly believe that technology, technique, synthesis, evidence, and method need to embrace with art, grace, empathy, reasoning, understanding, and love. To me, this is the challenge of my generation.
That is why I chose to merge these two realms of mine. That is why I love to teach young medical students who hold neither preconception nor predisposition. Because I believe in transformation and empowerment, I never tire of sharing what Medicine and Magic can say to each other.
And when the Caduceus is planted in terra firma, when complementary snakes dance upon its solid staff allowing the inner eye to really learn and see the truth, the wings shall overtake the sky, embracing all with care and compassion. Now that's a journey of a lifetime.