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A Picture of Health

In 2007 a team of photographers went across Canada to document the health care delivery experience of marginalized, remote and vulnerable populations.

Their cameras uncovered the stories of “invisible minorities” – people who have barriers to health care either due to where they live or how they live. They are found on the fringes of civilization. They are living among us in the inner city. They suffer from unseen illness or systemic social barriers. These photo essays give us all an exclusive look into an experience that is very Canadian, but foreign to most of us.

The Frontline Health collection is presented in collaboration with the Canadian Public Health Association. See the first 7 photo essays from the selections below. New stories will be released every month over the next year. (more…)

Suddenly, Cancer is the funniest joke in NYC

So who says you can’t laugh at Cancer?

This past week, the audio recording of Tig Notaro’s comedy stand-up routine about her breast cancer diagnosis last summer turned up on Louis CK’s site for a $5 download. Here’s an excerpt of Louis’ reaction:

The show was an amazing example of what comedy can be. A way to visit your worst fears and laugh at them. Tig took us to a scary place and made us laugh there. Not by distracting us from the terror but by looking right at it and just turning to us and saying “wow. Right?”. She proved that everything is funny. And has to be. And she could only do this by giving us her own death as an example. So generous.

Now New York City is about to turn Cancer into the funniest joke in town. First off-Broadway and then Columbia University will celebrate the art of laughing at cancer.

On October 19, the 2011 Canadian Comedy Award winner for Best One Person Show headlines the prestigious United Solo Theatre Festival just off-Broadway. Daniel Stolfi turns his tussle with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 25 into a tour de force of dramatizations, characterizations, humiliations and exhilarations. He takes on stigma, icons like Lance Armstrong, and confronts the assault on his hair, his sex drive and his machismo with flair and flamboyance that leaves you belly aching and heart aching. Then he dances, like no Cancer can dance at all.

At Columbia University on November 7, Will Reiser of last year’s feature film “50/50” delivers a speech at the prestigious Narrative Medicine program. Doctors studying the art of narrative competency will be listening to this career funny man describe how he turned his personal cancer journey into one laugh track after another in the hit film starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogen.

Imagine. A roomful of doctors, who are studying serious literature to learn how to better understand patient stories to improve their practice, are going to be listening a young hellcat storyteller. Now this is progress! Its recognition that valid story comes in many forms and that comedy holds equal weight in the battle of creative expression.

It’s also recognition that comedy makes a seemingly tough subject like cancer digestible by the public. The TV series “The Big C” starring Laura Linney, is about a suburban mother, diagnosed with melanoma cancer, who tries to find the humour in the disease. According to WashingtonPost critic Hank Stuever: “It’s for people who are repelled by the warm-fuzzy, disease-o’-the-week dramas of cable television.” And the darkside series “Breaking Bad” turns a high school teacher’s cancer diagnosis into a life of crime that takes many funny and bizarre twists.

Laughing at cancer is no longer taboo. If you’re in New York City this week, take in “Cancer Can’t Dance Like This” and get your belly aching.

  • More Stories That Can Make You Laugh, and maybe cry a little too

The Waiting Room: Mitch’s View

By Mitch Houlahan

The Waiting Room is an intimate exposure of the personal battles occurring within the walls of Highland County hospital, peering into the lives of people who often need public healthcare to survive. I’m sure anyone can recall the emotions which can emerge in any type of public waiting room; although the difference between renewing a driver’s licence and refilling a child’s prescription is fairly obvious. The Waiting Room has taken on a difficult task of expressing the daily routine and atmosphere of an extremely busy public hospital where the majority of patients are uninsured.

The Waiting Room is not a film in isolation. It is part of a comprehensive Storytelling Project that connects the audience on a personal level, to make us feel closer to the person who must navigate through the public healthcare system for themselves and their family. It is very likely that the majority of viewers (including myself) will be unable to relate to the experiences shown in the film; but the value of the film will be measured in the awareness it stands to generate. Filmmaker Pete Nicks gives the prominent role to the voice of the patient – it couldn’t get much more firsthand than The Waiting Room.

The Storytelling Project gives us a preview of many of the film’s individual stories and a background to understanding the film’s effort. The project delivers content across several different platforms including the film; a web component that shares cultural data and cross media material generated by staff and volunteers; a mobile application; and an interactive platform accessible to patients in the waiting room of Highland Hospital. The objective of all of this programming is to give “hospitals, policy makers, journalists and the general public a greater understanding of the evolving relationship between public policy and people’s lives.”

The beauty of The Waiting Room is that the patient voice is clearly heard, but not without the equally important views of the doctors, nurses and hospital staff. A real sense of an interconnected community is depicted by these stories. The hardships and struggles that we are learning about are not isolated; they are a part of something much larger and more difficult to comprehend. I think if there is any chance of improving the imperfections of public health care, it makes sense to have a balanced understanding of the opinions of employees who deliver care and the patients who rely on it. The Waiting Room has provided a structure for this understanding of opinion with its storytelling project. The weight and usefulness of this initiative now depends on the willingness of the viewers to understand the voices which have been given a platform to be heard. Editor’s Note: Mitch Houlahan is our Associate Story Editor and has put together our feature on the “Waiting Room”. Mitch brings some interesting perspectives to the project, among which are his youthfulness, his political science education and his medical system interactions as a result of serious sports related injuries. Compared to a much different Canadian health care system, the realities around a US public hospital have been a real eye opener.


  • Stories from The Waiting Room

XX Stories of Women in Health Week

Its hard to argue the facts. According to XX in Health,  women represent 73% of medical and health services managers while only 4% of healthcare CEOs are women. I can’t imagine that this doesn’t affect the delivery of care from the professional and institutional providers.

But since we here at Patient Commando are on a mission to amplify the patient perspective, we’re interested in the equation from the other side of the table. And the reality is that 80-90% of health decisions taken for patients are made by women. Women are the primary caregivers and decision makers to sick children, sick spouses, sick siblings, and sick parents. As well as when they’re sick themselves.

We’re declaring this week “XX Stories of Women in Health Week” where we celebrate the critical role of women as caregivers and engaged patients. We’ve searched our collection and come up with a terrific selection by and about dynamic women who are role models to all of us in bringing better care to those in need. (more…)

Patient Commando #TentTalk – Live Journal

“Healing Through Theatre” – July 10th, 5PM at The Toronto Fringe Festival Tent Talks

Relevant Hashtags: #FringeTT#TentTalk #FringeClub

♦♦♦ Pre Event ♦♦♦

13:00 via @PatientCommando: Join us Today for our @Toronto_Fringe tent talk with @CancerCantDance details on FB http://t.co/9Sba9WPu

13:05 via @PatientCommando: PM Tent Talk at 581 Bloor Street for @Toronto_Fringe – Come one, Come all.

(RT via @mhoul3)

13:12 via @Colleen_Young: @PatientCommando see you at the #FringeTT at 5pm for your show. Can’t wait http://t.co/vPGmEfJk

13:39 via @PatientCommando: Everything you need to know about today’s Tent Talk event – http://t.co/0sIdoxca

(RT via @Toronto_Fringe, @rosabourin, @BeeRaskob)

16:00 via @PatientCommando: 1 Hour to show time @Toronto_Fringe “Healing Through Theatre” #FringeTT http://t.co/0sIdoxca

(RT via @EatPooLove)

16:41 via @PatientCommando: Getting our team sorted, the camera primed and twitter feed at the ready

♦♦♦ Event Start ♦♦♦

17:00 via @verbitty: Taking in a @Toronto_Fringe #TentTalk at Artist Alley about theatre’s power to heal, follow me for all the live action!

17:01 via @PatientCommando: Tent talk starting and its a packed house

17:02 via @PatientCommando: Clare from @Toronto_Fringe kicks us off

17:04 via @PatientCommando: Intros with Brian G Smith, Dan Stolfi, Zal, and Dr. Jeremy  Photo: http://t.co/4Uw41jZK

17:06 via @PatientCommando: Zal talking about what we do http://t.co/fIZCl19c 

17:08 via @verbitty: Patients like to tell their story, empowers them to engage their providers for better care

17:08 via @PatientCommando: Dr. Jeremy talking about how telling a story “works”

17:10 via @PatientCommando: Improv creates an authentic story – Brian G Smith Photo: http://t.co/G7K5egPI

17:12 via @verbitty: Arts Health Initiative uses humour with retirement residents, reduces agitation and increases sociability

17:13 via @PatientCommando: Improv and humorous patient storytelling shows a 20% decrease in agitation in patients

(RT @IHaveIIH)

17:13 via @verbitty: Not just using humour, but empathy and emotion to connect with patients

17:14 via @verbitty: Patch Adams: Treat the disease you win or lose; treat the patient, you win everytime

17:14 via @PatientCommando: You treat the patient you win everytime. #PatchAdams

17:16 via @PatientCommando: Zal demonstrates theatre and connection Photo: http://t.co/boaXjWrk

17:18 via @PatientCommando: Zal demonstrating the power of impressions Photo: http://t.co/ATD8cExA

17:19 via @verbitty: Theatre is about illusion and perspective, applying to healing changes views on illness and response

17:20 via @PatientCommando: Dan Stolfi shares his story Photo: http://t.co/ILFyTmTP

17:24 via @verbitty: Cancer Can’t Dance Like This: from Fringe to national, giving cancer sufferes a voice via awareness and education

17:25 via @PatientCommando:@CancerCantDance shares benefits of telling an award winning show and now working with Brian Photo: http://t.co/JMI0bKU3

17:33 via @PatientCommando: @CancerCantDance and @Toronto_Fringe 100 play “Dr. Know it all”. Hilarity ensues Photo: http://t.co/Z2IakYAV

17:33 via @verbitty: From Giraffe Elboowtology to Elephant Testicles (Period): Three-Headed Doctor and other improv games

17:35 via @PatientCommando: Dr. Jeremy discusses med school, humour, and narrative.

17:37 via @PatientCommando: Questions from the audience. I think I know this guy…

17:39 via @verbitty: Acceptance of hardships, sickness or otherwise, gives you power over it to use for humour and theatre

17:39 via @PatientCommando: @CancerCantDance shares insights from his journey – when to introduce story to a patient and share

17:42 via @verbitty: Theatre liberates you from the downs of sickness active listening creates doctor-patient empathy

17:42 via @PatienCommando: “Theatre can build #empathy” – Zal Press

17:43 via @verbitty: Using humour and more accessible patient language to help patients laugh sooner and cope better

17:44 via @PatientCommando: No one wants to hear “knock knock, it’s cancer.” – Dr. Jeremy Photo: http://t.co/kzjjC6QZ

17:47 via @PatientCommando: A patient story can provide the reframing necessary for a posititve patient-doctor relationship.

17:49 via @verbitty: Medicine is a blend of art and science

17:51 via @PatientCommando: Zal – talking about patient commando. Come visit us. (shameless plug)

17:52 via @verbitty: Patient Commando amplifies patient voice empowers, engages, teaches narrative skills to play own role in healing

17:55 via @PatientCommando: How to balance humour and mockery in patient relationships. @CancerCantDance shares his experience. Photo: http://t.co/kuzIjYJO

17:56 via @verbitty: Line between using vs imposing humour, coping vs mockery; know audience, turn topic on self so others relate

18:00 via @PatientCommando: One more improve/creative exercise with @CancerCantDance Photo: http://t.co/m7HJ8oqx

(RT @thisisjboogie)

18:06 via @PatientCommando: Questions from the audience turn this activity into a terrifically funny activity

18:08 via @PatientCommando: Thank you to all who attended. Now to @EatPooLove’s show at the Randolph theatre at 9PM. Thx @Toronto_Fringe

18:10 via @verbitty: Hilarious #TentTalk on theatre and healing! Talks every day at 5, visit Artist Alley at @Toronto_Fringe for a talk or come see a show!

21:40 via @Toronto_Fringe: @PatientCommando Read the live tweets that The 100 made at the #TentTalk Great talk today!

♦♦♦ End of Event ♦♦♦

For more photos on our Fringe Festival event visit us on Facebook.

Thanks to all who helped support this event via Twitter.

@MargaretAtwood @Toronto_Fringe @EatPooLove @pipbradford @Vnusinbluejeans @BeeRaskob @sarahmagni @OffTheTwuff @AijaGreen @MarryMeOwen @verbitty @mhoul3 @kathykastner @colleen_young @StampedAStory @thisisjboogie @danielstolfi @cancercantdance @harriseve @med_writer @rosabourin @IHaveIIH

Tent Talk: Healing Through Theatre

Today at 5:00 PM we will present our Toronto Fringe Festival Tent Talk: Healing Through Theatre. All are welcome to attend.

Our Executive Director Zal Press, will be joined by speakers Daniel Stolfi, of the Award Winning Theatre Production, Cancer Can’t Dance Like This, and Dr. Jeremy Rezmovits, from Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.  Brian G. Smith, Creative Director for Patient Commando and The Second-City Alumni will facilitate this humorous one-hour event.

During a kick-off event at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Theatre last year, Brian orchestrated a brilliant performance that demonstrated the power of theatre and humour. While today’s event will be a slightly different program it will undoubtably build upon the efficacy of performance.  Join us.

Event Details:

Panel members from the health industry, show business and patient organizations tackle the topic of “Healing Through Theatre” in a riotous discussion. This is Laugh Therapy at its best. Moderated by Brian G. Smith, presented by PatientCommando.com

More information available here

The Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s 581 Bloor St W

Tuesday July 10th 5:00-6:00pm: Healing Through Theatre

Bar open 4:30pm – 12am

If you can’t make it we’ll be on Twitter the entire time tweeting #FringeTT

Michael Seres – The Man With Olympic Sized Guts

The morning after my first bowel resection over 21 years ago, I was lying in bed still woozy from anesthetic. A troop of white coated doctors entered the room and surrounded my bed. It was my surgical team.

The lead resident was filling me in on how successful the operation was, how much bowel was removed, when he added, “Oh, by the way, while we were in there we removed your appendix too.”

He was much too casual about taking one of my body parts. I panicked momentarily, groping myself between my legs to make sure the surgeons hadn’t got carried away “while they were in there”!

I’ve learned to live with the consequences of those missing lengths for a couple of decades. I know I’ve been lucky. There are people in far worse condition than me. Then 5 days ago I came across Michael Seres online.

Michael didn’t just have a bowel resection. After years of chronic Crohn’s disease his bowel completely collapsed. A resection wasn’t going to do the trick. He needed a whole new bowel and was slated to be one of the very first people in the UK to undergo a bowel transplant.

The transplant took place in October, 2011. It hasn’t been an easy journey. But on Sunday, June 8, 2012, Michael sets a new standard in guts and glory by being an Olympic Torchbearer for the 2012 London Olympics.

You can watch him walk streamed live online here at approximately 9 a.m. EDT. If you miss it, we’ll be featuring it next week on our site.

We’re also going to be featuring Michael’s writings which are honest, enlightening, and visceral. With all that he’s undergone, he continues to understand the inherent connection between his reality and that of his wife and children. Through his constant blogging, and that of his wife Justine and young son Nathan, we will share all the intimate details of this unique story.

Even as one who has lost parts of my gut, I have difficulty relating to losing it all, then getting someone else’s to replace it. Michael Seres is my new hero. Aside from offering himself up as a guinea pig for this procedure, he’s taking us all along for the ride.

Thanks Michael. It’ll be exciting to see your walk on Sunday. Be careful playing with torches.

Here’s a couple of Michael’s blog posts to get you started.