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The beauty of the beast that is Australia: unforgiving and unforgettable

10 Jun, 09 | by Deborah Kirklin

Half a lifetime ago I went to Australia for my medical elective, a joyous interlude just before finals that allows doctors-to-be to savour, for one last time, the freedom of life as a student. Eight weeks is barely time to get over the jetlag let alone to adjust to the stark and breathtaking landscapes that unfurl in any journey across this large and mystifying country. Yet long enough to leave the lasting impression that no matter how impressive the delights of Sydney and Melbourne and Australia’s other cities and towns, this is a country only a blink away from submission to its own awesome forces of nature.


Sick doctors, sick notes, and swine flu: why coroner’s reports are so yesterday

20 May, 09 | by Deborah Kirklin

A couple of weeks ago a doctor friend from California was visiting me in London. Shortly before her arrival date swine flu fever was gripping the world’s media, with California proving a hotbed for new cases. And, illogically I’ll admit, I felt a certain disquiet that a doctor from the first US State to suffer a swine flu death would shortly arrive in my already less than healthy home. more…

“Doctor, I’m normal. Can you help?”

30 Mar, 09 | by Deborah Kirklin

Yes, I know patients don’t actually complain of being normal, but isn’t there sometimes a not so small voice in your head telling you that this is, effectively, what’s happening? Why, you wonder, is this person surprised that if they continue to wear tight shoes their corns will keep returning? And why, oh why, do they think it makes sense to ask you for advice rather than the local shoe shop assistant?


Mad, bad or simply sad: a medical humanities look at mental health legislation

1 Dec, 08 | by Deborah Kirklin

Vincent Van Gogh,' Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889.'London, Courtauld Institute Gallery.

Vincent Van Gogh. Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889. London, Courtauld Institute Gallery.

This month the Mental Health Act (MHA) 2007 came into force in England and Wales. This Act, which amends the MHA 1983, is just the latest in a series of Acts of Parliament that form part of an on-going search for the fine balance between personal liberty and public safety.

The language used in these various Acts, both in their naming and in the way in which the illnesses and disorders suffered by those falling within their remit are described and defined, is interesting. The Lunacy Act 1890 talks of “lunatics, idiots and persons of unsound mind”. The Mental Deficiency Act 1913 introduced safeguards to monitor what went on in what were then termed asylums. In 1959, with the introduction of the  first incarnation of the Mental Health Act, we see perhaps the first, modest, attempt to move away from the use of language that appears to blame and diminish those affected by the Act. more…

World economic events:their implications for health

30 Sep, 08 | by Deborah Kirklin

As I write, much of the information rich world is focussed on the precarious state of the highly interrelated global financial structures. For many others, the daily struggle to survive, coupled with lack of access to minute-to-minute updates about these unsettling events, means they remain unaware of the economic drama unfolding around the world. This, unfortunately, will not protect them from the inevitable fallout of these disturbing developments.

The relationship between health and poverty is well established. The reliance of a large proportion of the world’s population on cheap food has been brought into stark relief by  food riots in a number of countries, sparked by rising food prices and the hunger and fear this inevitably evokes. 

Even in so-called emerging markets- those parts of the world like China and India where growth far outstrips that in older more established industrial economies- there is rising concern about what a collapse of the financial system would mean for these fledging economies.

So as politicians in Washington struggle to find it within themselves to vote for an expensive bailout that might lose them their jobs come the November US elections, I wonder if it is anything other than naive to ask them to contemplate the human dimension, within and well beyond America, of their decisions. To echo a well worn metaphor, if America catches pneumonia not only will the world sneeze but many many people around the world will find themselves out of work, unable to eat and care for themselves and their families, and life expectancy for the poorest and most vulnerable in all parts of the world will shorten.  more…

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