Gabrielle Navon, MD (2018)
I dance with hula hoops as a form of self-expression and catharsis. I have been practicing this art form for over four years now, and it always amazes me how much more there is to learn. I started on this journey when I was struggling with joint pains and looking for a low impact activity. Beyond offering me a way to remain active without pain, I also found a sense of relief. I discovered a way of releasing emotion that I had not accessed previously. As I progressed further into my career in medicine, I found myself full of emotional, humanistic reactions to the suffering I was witnessing. I became even more reliant on my hula hoops to cope. I feel strongly that effective and healthy ways of coping are integral to maintaining balance and emotional health in medicine. Many doctors find themselves becoming emotionally hardened, which may be a shield from the sadness we witness. I promised myself early on I never want to lose my empathy and compassion. I believe it is what makes for exceptionally effective healers, allowing us to experience full human emotions and connect with patients. Hula hooping helps me keep my balance, without sacrificing my raw humanity and vulnerability.
This video depicts me, the night before a patient with whom I had grown attached died. I had been on service with him for two months. Two months of trying our best and failing to cure his disease, and two months of watching him suffer without any significant improvement. Then he started spiraling down. As he approached multi organ failure, it became clear this was the end. On one hand, his suffering would end, but on the other, he so desperately wanted to live, and was not ready to accept dying. This made it harder for me to accept as well. Watching him say goodbye to his three-year-old daughter crushed me. I could not help but leave in tears. In response, I turned to my hoops. With fury and passion, I danced until sweat dripped into my eyes. He died the following night. While I will never forget the impact he had on me, my art helped me find peace, let go, and cope so that I could continue to use my energy to provide healing and compassion for others. I dedicate this piece to him. I filmed it so that there will be something permanent to commemorate the impression he made on me, and to ensure I will never forget him. Hula hoops for me are so much more than a children’s toy. For me, they are art, and ultimately, my catharsis. For that, I am beyond grateful.
This manuscript was submitted to the April 2018 Arts in Medicine theme issue.