The Portrait: Simple Yet Complex, Obvious Yet Profound Part 1: The Eyes

By Judith Leitner

Over a century and a half ago, most folks were unable to create tangible visual links to their past. Many lacked the financial means necessary for creating pictorial inventories of themselves and their ancestors through the pricey art of Portrait Painting. Then, in 1839, Charles Daguerre in France and Henry Fox Talbot in England both announced that they had devised a way to ‘fix an image’, and the art and magic of Photography was born. With its affordable price tag, this clever novelty would enable everyman to express a primal, compelling need: to record, share and collect memories in pictures.

Cityscapes and still-life studies were the focus of the earliest photographic endeavors, as both subjects tended to be immobile during long exposures. Portrait photography evolved swiftly and concurrently, as technological advances in optics and chemistry allowed for less extensive exposures and richer images. Studios burst on the scene to accommodate the torrential parade of everyman and aristocrat alike. Since then, we’ve been voraciously crafting portraits and positioning ourselves in the ‘decisive moment’.

In spite of his deep ambivalence towards modernity and middle class values, the bohemian poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire allowed himself to be ‘mechanically reproduced’ by a [...] continue the story

How Did I Quit Smoking? I Just Stopped!

By Sean McDermott

I had quit smoking so many times that I decided not to use that word ever again and now when I hear people say that they have “quit”,  I take it lightly and reserve comment.  Quitting is something that you fear, something that you approach slowly and have a plan in place to overcome the odds, the mood swings, the cravings.  I had no such thing.

Let me give you some untypical background.  In July of 2007 I arrived at Toronto Western Hospital in an ambulance dying of Liver Disease from Alcoholism.  I know this because they told me next morning that I had been dying for about two weeks. I wouldn’t have made it through the night if my sister and Mother had not insisted as I lay in my sweat-drenched Queen bed, throwing up repeatedly, that I had to go to hospital.  Even then I kept thinking,  “if I could just rest” but I went as they say, kicking and screaming.  The Chief Physician the very next morning visited my bedside, told me that I was very lucky and that my life was about to change, that is if I wanted to live.  There is always the [...] continue the story

A Herd of Narcissists, Part 3

In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about the connection between shame and narcissism. In Part 2, I looked at narcissists’ belief that they are special and unique people. In this final section, I will be looking at their belief that they are better than others: the “others” in this case being you and I, the users of Canada’s healthcare system.

If you read Parts 1 and 2, you will know that I’m taking some of the basic tenets of narcissism and applying them to my experiences. I’m doing so because of the high level of frustration I felt trying to get reasonable care for my 77 year-old mother. I chose narcissism because anyone who has tried to negotiate with a narcissist–essentially a self-absorbed person–will understand the difficulties I’m describing. The self-absorbed are those who will only engage with others when it benefits them in some way.

The Canadian healthcare system, in some regions, offers several variations on this theme.

In general, I find that many healthcare workers have a lot of confidence and it comes from their basic understanding of supply and demand. Their scarcity gives them the upper-hand and they know it. Two predominant factors make up this issue: there [...] continue the story

A Herd of Narcissists, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I wrote about the relationship between narcissism and shame.  This brings me to my next point, which is that narcissists see themselves as “unique and special people.”

(Scroll down to get the rest of article.)

I’m looking at narcissism because I believe its submerged half, shame, is a shadowy but potent presence in many healthcare settings: its destructive force is shaping the behaviour of many working in the field.

I want to understand what went wrong with my mother’s journey through the healthcare system. I want to know why workers in it were so prone to lying, prevaricating and stonewalling. I would also like to know why advocating for my mother provoked so much anger and resentment.

I’m looking for answers because I am getting older and what I saw frightened me.

My mother’s journey started in an acute-care hospital. From there she went to a rehabilitation hospital, and from there she came to my home, where she lived for 20 months. She is now in a long-term care facility here in Montreal and is, for the most part, doing well. However, if you read Part 1 of this article, you will already know this wasn’t always the case.

Like many [...] continue the story

A Herd of Narcissists, Part 1

I’ve touched on the issue of shame twice now in recent articles. It’s because I believe it is a powerful tool for both good and evil.

When I refer to shame as a tool I mean that the evocation of it, whether self-generated or externally prompted, often triggers one of two responses: a self-correcting mechanism (I won’t do that again) or a self-corrosive mechanism (I’m no good). Brené Brown differentiates between guilt and shame by saying that guilt is attached to our actions while shame is attached to our identity. It’s the difference between doing wrong (Ooops) and being wrong (I’m such an idiot).

I sometimes experience a helpful form of shame when I drive carelessly, and my desire to avoid that feeling is probably what keeps me from doing it too often. On the other hand, being unfairly targeted or thrown into a bewildering conflict seems to evoke a different kind of shame. I’m talking about those times when I’m being treated as the source of a problem instead of just part of it.

Here’s an example: Driving to work one morning, I inadvertently swerved into a neighbouring lane on a one-way street. I corrected myself immediately, but another driver, who was behind me and in that lane, [...] continue the story

Finding out about wisdom teeth the hard way

In my 23 years of life, I’ve had health insurance for only 2 of them. Growing up, my Dad made just enough money so that I didn’t qualify for medicaid, but not enough to be able to purchase insurance. Despite this, my parents never denied me needed healthcare, charging everything to our version of health insurance: the credit card. But now, as a young adult watching my parents try to unbury themselves from a mountain of strangling medical debt, I’ve resolved to not let the same fate befall me. My version of health insurance? Do not go to the doctor until I am 99.9% sure I am dying.

This was working fairly well for me until last year. I was relatively healthy most of the time, and was astounded to learn how many things would go away on their own with no antibiotics.

Then, in the fall, a few months after moving to a new town for school, a bad flu knocked me to my feet. And since I had been off my asthma medications for over 4 years due to the prohibitive cost (not of the drugs themselves, which I had been on since I was 6, but of the doctor [...] continue the story

Seeing Light And Shadow

By Judith Leitner

It all begins with light and shadow: opulent daylight softly slipping through a window and illuminating a lovely face, deep shadows stretching across wide valleys and cavernous crevices, dazzling light glistening on ice or crafting strange forms along sand dunes, elongated shadows within dawn’s emergent light and dusk’s fading glow, dense light within grey fog, mellow open shade on a bright summer day, harsh and calculating flash light in a dark room: these and an infinite array of other expressions of light and shadow are the primary shapers of meaning in a photograph. Indeed, the word ‘photography’ literally means ‘writing (graphy) with light (photo)’.

The first time I taught children to ‘write with light’ I quickly understood that all they needed – after a very basic intro to the camera and film – was a few lessons in exploring light and shadow. Outdoors, we wandered and observed how time of day, weather, open air and rooftop canopies informed qualities of natural light and shadow, and we played with the flash in daylight. The children were amazed when they perceived the ways their hats blocked light and cast dark shadows on their faces. Indoors, we looked at diffused window light, [...] continue the story

The Waiting Room: Breathing Lessons

 

7-year-old Nia Walker is treated for her asthma problems. After the doc checks her out, Nia sips on a carton of milk while her parents discuss healthcare costs, universal healthcare, and the high asthma rates of African Americans. More  video from The Waiting Room.

The Waiting Room: Serenade

 

CNA Cynthia Johnson gets serenaded in the waiting room.

More  video from The Waiting Room.

The Waiting Room: Lucy’s Patients

Highland Hospital Volunteer Lucy Ogbu talks about her desire to help communities in need and her dream of becoming a doctor.

More  video from The Waiting Room.