Domhnall MacAuley: “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.”

Domhnall Macauley“See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.” I didn’t recognise the words but the sentiments were familiar. Words of inspiration from a song that helped shape the paintings, drawings, and sculptures of Claire Halliday, a relatively unknown Irish artist. Stumbling upon her work in a far corner of a group exhibition on the ground floor of a grey soulless half finished apartment block, I was struck by the sensitivity, care, and softness of the work.

She described the influence of song lyrics. Finding herself at a cross roads—she spoke as a recent grandmother but caring also for her elderly mother—she was exquisitely aware of the tenderness of life. The sensitive portrait of her mother, an old woman lying peacefully in bed is familiar to every family doctor. The quotation used in the first line, are words from a song in the film Tommy one of three films, including Children of a Lesser God and The Piano, that feature characters unable to speak. They had a major influence on her work. She gave them voice.

Visiting the art exhibition at the WONCA meeting of family doctors in Vienna, in keeping with their theme of The Art and Science of General Practice, I looked forward to the insights of my family medicine colleagues. With such a unique and privileged insight in the lives of others, I could think of no greater inspiration. But, it wasn’t quite what I expected—it wasn’t about people as patients. Perhaps because art is an escape from their daily work, they tended to choose other subjects. Not so, a recent photography exhibition in Dublin, inspired and commissioned  by Tom O Dowd, Professor of General Practice at Trinity College, that captured the lives of family doctors in Ireland, urban and rural, interacting with families old and young. It needed little interpretation—it caught every nuance of the human values; the social, physical, and emotional realities of life and death.

Tommy, the movie, was too weird for me. I could never have imagined music from “The Who” as inspiration for such sensitive art. But I had missed the subtleties. Understanding, caring, and the frailty of life. To my shame, I had been blind and deaf to the message in the movie.  Closed ears and minds to the voices of others. But, others care too, in their own way and, at times with incredible sensitivity.

Domhnall MacAuley is primary care editor, BMJ