Memorials, Public Health, and Empathy

Here’s what was important this week…

The museum memorializing the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks opened this week. Steve Kandell wrote about visiting it: The Worst Day of My Life is Now New York’s Hottest Tourist Attraction. The photographer and people-person-extraordinaire behind Humans of New York spoke to someone who also went through the museum. It opened early for survivors and family members of victims. Everyone agreed that the gift shop was in bad taste.

One of my favorite blog of odds and ends, Futility Closet, had two posts recently that speak to the difficulty of colonizing a country. When the Spanish conquered the West Indies, the conditions they imposed on the natives were so poor that they were committing suicide in great numbers. So great, in fact, that:

 “In the end the Spaniards, faced with an embarrassing labor shortage, put a stop to the epidemic of suicides by persuading the Indians that they, too, would kill themselves in order to pursue them in the next world with even harsher cruelties.”

In Puritan New England, conditions were so bad for the conquerors (I mean settlers…) that children who were captured by Native Americans often didn’t want to come back. This was a somewhat popular theme for historical fiction novels like Calico Captive (which I read when I was younger). One possible reason for this, mentioned in the post, is that “The Mohawks were much more indulgent of children than the colonists, and women were counted equal to men and played an integral role in society and politics.”

Speaking of colonialism, Ta-Nehisi Coates has published a long essay making the case for reparations. It just came out Wednesday, so I’m saving it for this upcoming long weekend. You should too.

In unsurprising news, everything is broken. Especially everything having to do with computers. As Quinn Norton puts it so perfectly:

“There’s your choice: constantly risk clicking on dangerous malware, or live under an overpass, leaving notes on the lawn of your former house telling your children you love them and miss them.”

According to tech startup entrepreneurs, the way we do laundry is broken too. The snark that the author exudes is the perfect amount for this article.

When it comes to public health, malaria is still powerful and flourishing in Cambodia. The essay also points out that malaria used to be far more widespread than it used to be, but rich companies poured money into treatment and eradication, and now malaria is something Americans only think of when they plan a voluntourist trip to Africa and need to get a shot before they leave.

HIV is also very stigmatized, so even though it’s preventable, infection rates aren’t falling. The persistence of HIV across countries in Africa could also be explained by undiagnosed parasites, which cause sores in the vagina thereby increasing HIV transmission rates.

If you’d like to spend your Memorial Day weekend crying, read an essay about two peas in a pod becoming one after a woman’s best friend is diagnosed with cancer. Or you can read the essay about an oncologist whose wife is diagnosed with cancer. Or you can read both if you are in need of a really, really good cry.

I finally read Leslie Jamison’s essay collection The Empathy Exams, (the title essay of which I shared several weeks ago). Highly highly recommended, especially if you are in need of some introspective thought. Most of the essays are available online for free if you don’t want to spend the money on the book as well.

Sara Henderson, a writer on many topics around accessibility and ability, reflected on The Empathy Exams and empathy in doctors in general--especially giving them a well-rounded education to help with this. (My family doctor for awhile was actually a history major.)

An essay in The Rumpus looks at teaching medical students how to perform a gynecological exam on a woman, with their instructor taking care to note:

“Each time you touch a patient, you need to let her know beforehand. No surprises. It’s her body, and she’s granting you the privilege to be in her physical space.”

The author (and instructor) takes care to point out the importance of their role. Much like Jamison in her role as a medical actor,

“We are alive, awake, and very aware that they will learn from us tonight the privilege and responsibility of providing good medical care to women.”

As a last word this week, don’t use the term grammar nazi. Do listen to this song by The Hood Internet, mashing up Waka Flocka Flame and Twin Shadow. Primed for windows-down-summer listening.