Thursday, April 21, 2005

Vanishing Lung Syndrome

In trying to manage at least one post for April, I noticed through the fog of USMLE Step 1 study that this is National Poetry Month - and I thought I would share with you a little-known but really fabulous book of poems by a Czech author, Miroslav Holub. My favorite collection of poetry by him is called Vanishing Lung Syndrome. Below I copied a snippet from the title poem:

[...] scintigraphy shows
a disappearance of perfusion, and angiography
shows remnants of arterial branches
without the capillary phase.
Inside there may be growing
an abandoned room. [...]

This collection was written while Czechoslovakia was under Communist rule, and many of the poems are both medical and political at once - Holub taking advantage of his prodigious talent for wordsmithing to take jabs at the corruption and apathy within the ruling system.

In another poem entitled Kuru, or the Smiling Death Syndrome, the target is his fellow citizens:

We aren't the Fores of New Guinea
we don't indulge in ritual cannibalism
we don't harbour the slow virus that
causes degeneration
of the brain and spinal cord with spasms, shivers,
progressive dementia and
the typical grimace

We just smile,
embarrassed, we smile,
embarrassed, we smile,
embarrassed, we smile.

And for anyone who read the first line of this and went Eeeurgh, poetry - not only was Holub an accomplished immunologist & pathologist - he also had this to say about his career as a poet:
"I prefer to write for people untouched by poetry. . . . I would like them to read poems in such a matter-of-fact manner as when they are reading the newspaper or go to football matches. I would like people not to regard poetry as something more difficult, more effeminate or more praiseworthy." (Vecerní Praha, 1963)
P.S. For those who are curious, both Vanishing Lung Syndrome [2] and Kuru are real diseases, and just the kind of zebras that the Boards love to throw at innocent MSIIs. So I'm studying, really, I am.


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