A Dry and Silent World: Part 1, ‘A little like stepping off a precipice’.

In this four-part series, four researchers – an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Registrar, a Dentist, an Artist and a Professor – reflect on their experience working together on A Dry and Silent World, a multi-disciplinary collaboration between the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences, Centre for Craniofacial and Regenerative Biology, King’s College London, and freelance artist Emma Barnard, brokered and sponsored by the Cultural Institute at King’s. A Dry and Silent World is an ongoing project; works produced as a result of this collaboration will be exhibited in 2019.

How does the ability to hear, salivate and taste affect everyday life? It is typical that patients suffering or surviving head and neck diseases continue to be impaired by disabilities and sensory disorders that are often overlooked by clinicians and patients alike. Not least because the senses of hearing and taste are hidden, by virtue of their anatomy. The theme of ‘hidden disability’ came to the project team in their observations of vulnerable patients, in particular the elderly, those suffering dementia, Sjogren Syndrome and survivors of head and neck cancer. Too readily, aspects affecting the quality of life of these patients are not recognised.

Hearing and salivation are taken for granted by the public, by patients and even by medical practitioners. As such the team recognise a need to raise awareness especially amongst clinicians of the hidden nature of hearing loss and dry mouth amongst vulnerable patient groups. The aim is to develop this project by combining 3D printing of the relevant organs to explore their shape and structure, alongside photography to delve into the hidden aspects of these disabilities and how they affect patients’ daily lives.

A Dry and Silent World: Living with Hidden Disabilities seeks to encourage a three-way dialogue between patients, clinicians and academics mediated and documented through art.

In this first post, ENT Specialist Dr Mona Mozaffari discusses pausing clinical training to pursue a lab-based PhD and participate in the King’s Arts in Dentistry Project. Part two can be read here, part three here, and part four here

‘A little like stepping off a precipice, but a lot like coming up for air’: The ENT Registrar/Researcher 

Ten months ago, after eleven years of hospital life, as a medical student, then a junior doctor, then a trainee in Ear, Nose and Throat surgery, I paused my training and started a lab-based PhD studying developmental biology. It felt a little like stepping off a precipice, but a lot like coming up for air. It was refreshing and eye opening to walk in a world not divided into doctors and patients. I was itching to step out further still when I came across the King’s Arts in Dentistry project: a source of funding to encourage collaboration amongst artists and scientists within the Dental Institute. The idea for our proposal came from my experiences treating patients with hearing loss and those of my colleagues treating patients with dry mouth, and our joint endeavours as scientists exposing the workings of these hidden organs. In the throes of clinical and scientific commitments certain observations and insights had wandered in and out of our minds – here was an opportunity to explore them through the prism of art!

‘Untitled’ Digital CType Print 2018. Image illustrating the ‘blind contour’ drawing process. These are exercises that teach learning to see through sense of touch and are designed to improve the researchers’ visual concentration.
Image: ©Emma Barnard

We have so far had four workshops with Emma, our collaborator and experienced artist. To some extent they have involved getting to know each other and the details of our scientific work through tours and conversation. The workshops have also included enjoyable drawing exercises that Emma has used to challenge our perceptions and stimulate our creativity. In the latest workshop, we took turns describing a photograph for another person to draw – without saying exactly what the objects were. It struck me how for the drawing to exhibit a true likeness to the photograph, the describer needed to capture the spirit or atmosphere of the picture. This was much more effective than, for example, methodically listing the objects present. This took me back to a consultation I had observed in an oncology clinic. The patient had asked ‘where am I in my treatment? What’s to come?’ The Oncologist had paused and replied, ‘picture a beach with lapping waves, you’ve stepped your toes in’. It was interesting that really the patient in this case needed a reply that was familiar and uplifting, rather than factual.

Our collaboration, in its initial and developmental stages, has provided opportunity to pause and think about science and about medicine. I look forward with excitement to its progress and final piece.

 Dr Mona Mozaffari , PhD student and MRC Clinical Research Fellow, King’s College London

A dry and silent world: living with hidden disabilities is a collaboration between the Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences, Centre for Craniofacial and Regenerative Biology, King’s College London, and Emma Barnard, brokered and supported by the Cultural Institute at King’s. In collaboration with: Professor Abigail Tucker, Dr Tathyane Harumi Nakajima Teshima, Dr Monireh Mozaffari, and Dr Doris Cuckovic.

This is the first post of a four-part series. Part two can be read here, part three here, and part four here

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