Art and Literary Journal of UNC School of Medicine

Welcome to IRIS, UNC School of Medicine's online literary and arts magazine!

 We are now accepting submissions for the third annual edition until February 2015.

A Message from Dr. Holt

You saw in that room human nature taken by surprise,
and often the mask of custom was torn off rudely,
showing you the soul all raw.

 In Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham describes the “endless excitement” of his first experiences with clinical medicine.  What Maugham discovers in the clinic is pointedly not the challenge of the difficult case, not the fascination of the unusual exam finding, but something else:

There was no describing it. It was manifold and various; there were tears and laughter, happiness and woe; it was tedious and interesting and indifferent; it was as you saw it: it was tumultuous and passionate; it was grave; it was sad and comic; it was trivial; it was simple and complex; joy was there and despair; the love of mothers for their children, and of men for women; lust trailed itself through the rooms with leaden feet, punishing the guilty and the innocent, helpless wives and wretched children; drink seized men and women and cost its inevitable price; death sighed in these rooms; and the beginning of life, filling some poor girl with terror and shame, was diagnosed there. There was neither good nor bad there. There were just facts. It was life.

 In this edition of IRIS, the students, faculty and staff of the School of Medicine offer another testimony to the truth of Maugham’s insight.  Like the diversity Maugham found in the clinic, the astonishing range of forms and insights offered here demonstrate—concretely, as lived experience, as facts—how in coming to understand our patients we discover also ourselves.  How important such discoveries are in the making of doctors, I’ll leave these poems, images and narratives to explain.  They do it far better than I can.

Terrence Holt, MD

Social Medicine, Geriatric Medicine

 Dr. Holt’s is faculty advisor to IRIS.  He is the author of In the Valley of the Kings (Norton, 2009).  His next book, Internal Medicine, will be published this Fall by Norton/Liveright.

From 2013:

The iris is a surprisingly hardy plant: I have seen them lie dormant for decades, and still retain in their roots the capacity to bloom.  This Iris you have in front of you comes from similar stock, back in circulation after nearly a ten years’ hiatus.  The form is new—exclusively on-line now—and for that reason the range of offerings on display is far more diverse than print could ever offer.  Which is an unqualified good in this case, because the range of talents people bring to the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina is as surprising as the iris itself: the abilities showcased here may have lain dormant as their possessor’s time was given over to learning medicine, to patient care, to teaching, research, or the many other occupations that consume our days.  But give them the right conditions—a little exposure, a place in the sun—and these artists show us they retain their capacity to reveal the world in ways we haven’t seen it before, from the unique perspective that life and work in healthcare offers, with eyes and ears attuned to nuance, and with the abiding, humane values that have always lain at the heart of medicine.

I am proud to have had any role at all in this edition (limited to offering some advice at the beginning, and approval here at the end), but the real congratulations here belong to the editorial staff, who have shown a precocious talent for raising the dead.

Enjoy this new incarnation of Iris, and look for new work at this URL in the future.

Terrence Holt MD
Department of Social Medicine and Division of Geriatric Medicine