The physician’s role is to offer comfort and treatment to those who suffer from physical pain and face physical challenges. In the same way, the writer is devoted to offer solace and to sympathise with those who suffer from an inner, esoteric pain and face emotional challenges.
This post may strike as a little strange. I have decided to keep this blog in the English language in order to make it more accessible to the wider scientific world in which I associate. However, this post is about a Greek writer, the works of whom you may not get the chance to read in English. To those of you who understand Greek, I invite you with this English text to closely follow his new blog within the pages of the website of our Society of Junior Doctors; it will definitely be a journey into your soul (just as good literature is supposed to be defined). Manos Kontoleon remains the writer who has defined my literary adolescence, as well as the literary experience of many Greeks irrespective of age constraints. It is an absolute honour to co-exist among the humble pages demarcated by the sni.gr domain.
*** The power and the authority of the physician and the writer are very common – common, but of a different texture. But of the same dominance. It’s just that when a young student decides to be a doctor, they tend to be aware of how the physician’s authority is practiced. When a young person decides to be a writer, however, they are so constrained by their super-ego that they ignore how their texts will affect others’ lives. ***
Most parents know and understand how difficult it is to teach your children some basic life lessons. Sexual education, health education in general, social behaviour, identifying role models, building imagination. The best answer to all of these is usually found in literature. I am very fortunate to have been raised simply loving to always have a book by my bedside. And among my favourite and most educative books were those written by Manos Kontoleon.
*** All the physicians treat a human being in their most sensitive hour. When, even faced by minor problems, the shadow of death is lurking somewhere around. It is worth it then, alongside the valuable and up-to-date medical knowledge, to also hold the ability to approach the patient. To listen, to guess, to suspect. To understand. Literature can help to that direction. ***
Manos Kontoleon’ literature taught me humanism. His books taught me how to combine reality and imagination and make sure I always understand how to escape. His writings were once definitely my primary and most important sources of information on AIDS, drug use, social understanding. He always knew how to approach these issues, amazingly speaking to readers of all ages. Above all, his (along with some others’) books taught me to be sensitive, broad-minded, sensible, perspicacious. They taught me to care.
*** When I’m thinking of the word “doctor”, I only remember of one specific person. The one who I call when my fever is not dropping, when I can’t sleep, when I get scared by a sudden chest pain. A doctor who I feel close to me. A general practitioner. Well, I, too, am a writer-general practitioner. ***
I’ve met Manos Kontoleon twice. One in my early teens when as a school student we were taken to one of his lectures. Back then, the impact of seeing in person someone who already felt so familiar and famous overshadowed everything else. Our second meeting was a couple of years ago, when he turned up as an invited speaker to an evening organised by our Society of Junior Doctors. A rainy day, a strike in the means of transport, a not convenient location; only a few turned up. But we weren’t disappointed. In fact, it made the night feel mystical. And he was exactly the person that I have met through his pages. It was like he jumped out of one of his books and started narrating a new story. A story previously untold. And it was just for us.
*** Last summer, in the Hospital of Volos and later in the Hygeia Hospital, while the door to my room was closing behind the physician’s back, I lay back relieved and started dreaming of my next novel. In that new novel, how would I use this doctor? As someone whose mask I took, or someone to whom I gave my own mask? The leader and the servant. In politics they can never coexist. The physician and the writer, the writer and the physician. Sometimes it’s the one who offers life and the other who prepares you for death. Roles that are alternate and common… Choises that are yours and mine… ***
PS. Throughout the text I am borrowing (in italics) and translating words and sentences from his lecture to our Society. You can read the whole thing (in Greek) here.