Category: Charity

Take precautions: improve or improv-ise?

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” ― William G.T. Shedd

How much uncertainty can you live with? A lot, at least I thought so until I started a new course in improvisation. Improv is a bit like acting without a script. Scary? Here’s how this new experience helped me to lighten up my life.

Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” – J. A. Paulos

Before the improv course, precaution was my modus operandi. I was prepared, over-prepared and hyper-prepared for anything and everything. Like many other people, over-preparation was my way of coping with the uncertainty of life. I learned that careful preparation improved my performance and outcomes. This improvement, however, had limits and I couldn’t do better regardless of how much time I spent with preparation.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” – J Lennon

Figure 1 Neil Curran (R) photo credit: lowerthetone.com
 The Improv course with NeilCurran re-defined perfection for me. Over-preparation can often lead to a stilted impression. As if the spirit of doing things evaporated the moment you get in front of your audience, committee, boss or panel – you replace the addressee. Furthermore, you can only prepare for things you can foresee. But there are always unforeseen events. Improvisation helps you react to those challenges. Like any other art, it gives you the freedom of being here and now and reacting to whatever comes your way. It’s a way of being. An other paradigm. Some critics may say improvisation is lousiness, lack of knowledge or skill, neglect or laziness – something that should be avoided. The opposite is truth; improv skills allow you to respond when you run out of your prepared responses – to transcend yourself.

Improv and medical profession

The role of improv in medical profession is bigger than you might think. Although there are strict procedures and guidelines for most medical procedures, there’s still a lot that we don’t know and therefore – cannot regulate. Clinical intuition is invaluable in unregulated or over-regulated situations. Similar to improv, intuiting is reacting to the situation based on previous knowledge, experience and trust in the process. Atul Gawande, in his book The Checklist Manifesto, advocates using checklist to make sure the basics are done. This creates room for clinical wisdom and intuition to deal with unforeseen events. Instead of making rigid orders to doctors and thereby stripping their responsibility and clinical judgment away, the Checklist helps people make sure they do the basic and essential things, leaving enough space for intuition and … you’ve guessed it – for improvisation.

Tantalizing exhibition: A night when I was a doctor, an artist and a winning writer

On the night of July 3rd, 2014, I was a doctor, an artist and a winning writer.

An artist

After 30 weeks of laborious drawing and preparing our final show, a group of 16 illustrators and picture book makers exhibited their work in the Culture box, Dublin. We were led by Adrienne Geoghegan. The night before, we hanged our show as illustrated by the photos at the bottom of this post. An illustrator Mr. Clarke opened the night with a story about a British writer who once told him that people talk shite at the openings of exhibitions; it’s such an Irish thing. Wine was pouring, but it was just enough to not make people drunk. The DJ Doolittle played hits from the 60’s.

A Doctor

When Mr. Clarke attended to his keynote duties, he chatted with the artists. I told him that I was one of the people that he mentioned in his opening address. I had great difficulties in fitting the drawing into my day as a scientist. “Are you the doctor, then?” he asked. “Well, I’m a psychologist by background, but I work with doctors.” He wished me well in trying to integrate both careers. Combining Art& Science in one life is like churning 2 things at the same time. And yet, I felt a sense of worth, success at the exhibition. I realized that I have an impact on people, they like me and my work. I’ve never fully realized this until that night. “Are you one of the artists?” Somebody asked me at the end of the night. “Yes,” I replied proudly.

The 2014 Aindreas McEntee awarding ceremony: Dr Coughland and Dr Klimas. Photo source: irishmedicalwriters.com

A winning writer

The 2014 Aindreas McEntee prize, is open to members of Irish Medical Writers, a group of doctors and journalists specialising in healthcare. I’ve submitted my entry on the day of the deadline, expecting little more than introducing myself to the arena of Irish medical writing. The third place came as a surprise. The award ceremony was on the same night as the tantalizing illustrations exhibition. Thankfully, they gave me the prize at the beginning and release me to go for the exhibition. At the end of the night, everybody has won and we all got prizes (dodo bird effect).