Wednesday, November 26, 2014

'Comic Nurse' explains why graphic novels are the future of medicine

At one time Congress held hearings to decide if comic books were contributing to the delinquency of the nation’s youth. Now comic books and graphic novels are being used as a treatment for some patients with terminal illnesses.
SLIDESHOW: Photos from Graphic Medicine presentation.
Over the last 30 years comic books have went from being perceived as “kids stories” and have become a staple of popular culture. It’s nearly impossible to go somewhere without seeing merchandise for one comic book property or another, doctors offices and hospitals were one of the last holdouts until recent years.
Last month the Ypsilanti Public LIbrary teamed with St. Joseph Mercy Hospital to present the “Comic Nurse,” with guest speaker MK Czerwiec.
Czerwiec is a nurse by training who began writing comics as a way to relieve the stress of her job and better empathize with patients. She blogs as Comic Nurse  and teaches courses including a seminar called “Drawing Medicine” at Northwestern’s Feinburg Medical School.
She is also a member of the international Graphic Medicine group which is a web-based group of health care practitioners, patients, scholars and comic fans who are popularizing the use of graphic novels in health care and who recommend and review relevant graphic novels.
While not used as a method to treat physical symptoms of any ailments, graphic novels and comics are being used to teach doctors and patients alike what it’s like to have these diseases. Many of the recommended materials were written or drawn by authors and illustrators that had the disease, or at least had family members deal with them first hand.
“Many people who are dealing with something like Cancer would never think of picking up a

graphic novel, but reading and seeing the experience of someone who has been through what you are going through can be exactly what you need.” said Gillian Ream Gainsley, Communications Coordinator the library. “Graphic novels lend themselves to memoirs and many of the stories are incredibly personal, plus they are visual, which makes them that much more powerful.”
Czerwiec said she uses comics to help contemplate the complexities of illness and caregiving. She started out keeping her own journal with drawings to help her unwind after a day at the hospital, and eventually discovered that if it helped her, it might help patients as well.
“When a patient is admitted to the hospital, orders often call for me to draw blood,” Czerwiec said. “(pause) The doctors never thought that was very funny.
“In nursing school pathogens made sense to me as characters and I always explain things to my patients this way.”
She said she tells patients that tests show a “bug” in their blood that can be treated with medicine.
Czerwiec said serious stuff can be in comics too, hence the growing number of autobiographical books about what it’s like to have a terminal illness.
It wasn’t until Czerwiec stumbled upon a book called “Mom’s Cancer,” by Brian Fies, that she fully considered the power comics could have in health care. The book is the true tale of Fies’ mother's battle with metastatic lung cancer. The story describes how a serious illness affects patient and family, both practically and emotionally.
That was in 2009, since then Czerwiec and others like her have been working to integrate books like Fies’ and others on similar topics into curriculum for medical students and also to get them into the hands of patients that could benefit from the perspective offered in the books.
Since 2010 when the Graphic Medicine group launched in earnest, there have been five different Comics and Medicine Conferences where the group has worked to educate physicians on the benefits of graphic novels in patients emotional well being.
Locally in Michigan the Ypsilanti Library has become the first library in the country with a Graphic Medicine section. The library has more than 75 different graphic novels that topics as cancer, STDs, depression, mental health, aging, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and alcoholism.
The library also offers selected titles as book group sets aimed at support groups, seminars, or even families that may be interested in this unique way to explore a difficult topic.
Graphic Medicine was funded through the Will Eisner Graphic Novel Growth Award. YDL was one of two libraries in the country to receive the grant, valued at $7,000, in July of this year to expand graphic novel offerings in each library. Grant funds could be used in any way the library saw fit, as long as it was to promote graphic novels.
“Graphic novels really lend themselves to memoirs, so there are some really personal accounts of what it is like to deal with illness and addiction,” said Susan Brown, the librarian who manages the adult graphic novel collection at the library’s Whittaker road location. “The medical collection is an interesting project. I’ve been following the Graphic Medicine group for several years and I’m glad we’re going to be able to expand this collection.”
Eisner was a cartoonist, writer, and entrepreneur. He was one of the earliest cartoonists to work in the American comic book industry. His series “The Spirit,” was among the earliest continuing series in the industry. In 1978, he helped to popularized the term graphic novel with the publication of his book “A Contract with God.”

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