Hello Readers! Today I write to you from a plane, returning from Portland, where I have been attending the 65th annual conference for the Association of Medical Illustrators. So far this entire experience has been amazing. I feel that I have truly been surrounded by knowledgeable and talented people over the last week. And all of this against the backdrop of Downtown Portland, which has made quite an impression on me itself. We kicked things off on Wednesday morning with a first timers workshop to get us all acquainted with the basics of how these meetings go. Emily Shaw and Meggan Foldenaur did a great job of fostering a friendly environment for us first timers to meet each other and ask questions about how these things work. David Bolinsky also spoke to us a bit about his own artistic journey and work creating the company Xvivo in collaboration with Michael Astrachan, who was also there attending as a first timer, and a handful of other brilliant folks who were not in attendance.
Later that evening we had the Salon Opening Reception, which was a real treat. There were literally hundreds of submissions of medical art to check out, and most of the creating artists right there, many of which choosing to share their accumulated wisdom with the lot of us. Overall the AMI has shown itself to be a very friendly and inviting crowd.
Thursday morning started with a welcome to Portland talk, which was quickly followed by Dr. John Hunter‘s speech on both the history of Max Bröedel as well as a really helpful overview of how surgeons learn from medical illustrations and what makes an illustration more or less useful to them. This was followed by Tim Girvin‘s presentation entitled “Design for a New World.” Not being particularly drawn to design myself, I wasn’t too excited about this one, in fact I even considered skipping it. But I am so glad that I did see it. I think that more than a presentation on design, Tim delivered to us performance art on life and living as an artist. You kind of wanted to hug the guy by the time he was finished.
After that Betsy Palay got up and spoke about finding new opportunities and expanding our definition as medical artists in her presidential address entitled “In Search of Invisible Lizards.” Here she compared the strangely unnoticed giant pink iguanas of the Galapagos to the opportunities in front of us that we regularly fail to see by simply not recognizing them for what they are.
Thursday afternoon, after a nice lunch outing to the famous food carts of downtown Portland, I had a chance hear the Vesalian scholars session and get a glimpse at just what kind of projects took home the big money that I failed to get with my own application for my own research last year. Neil McMillan spoke first about creating a model to help explain the pharyngeal flap procedure to patients and their families with velopharyngeal insufficiencies due to a cleft palate. This was really cool, as I initially assumed that he meant to create a digital model, and found myself obsessively writing notes about that sculpture idea I’d had back in Dr. Reisburg’s maxillofacial prosthetic’s class to explain this very procedure, only to realize that Neil was only using digital tools to arrive at a physical 3D model. I’m a fan of good anatomical models like that, so I thought that this was pretty cool.
Then Shizuka Aoki got up and spoke about her research with incomplete midline closures, which is the underlying cause of cleft palates. Her work has been more targeted at visually communicating information about these cases to medical professionals and students of medicine, and she is doing some fine work to that end.
Then Gwun-Yee Chin presented his own work in laying the groundwork for computerized programming intended to study the movements of patients with autism via motion capture. The program allowed for various means of seeing and measuring the nuances of movement in a patient by utilizing a standard gaming program and setting it up to instead acquire patient data.
And lastly Elizabeth Weissbrod, who if I remember correctly from meeting her at the salon opening more commonly goes by Besty, got up and presented her Flash interactive about Malaria. From what I gathered from her presentation, the easiest way to stop malaria is to stop it in the mosquitoes rather than the humans, but the easiest way to reach mosquitoes is to inoculate the humans from which they feed. It’s actually a rather elegant solution to the problem, except that most humans aren’t too keen, nor should they be, about receiving injections that do absolutely nothing to protect them against malaria directly, but instead can only help stop the spread of malaria after they already have it, from being passed via mosquito onto the next person. The interactive does a great job of educating its audience about the details of this matter.
After the Vesalius presentations I actually departed on a unique opportunity not scheduled by the AMI. The previous night, my classmate Kylie Bergman, who also studies anaplastology with me, introduced me to Fred Harwin. We knew about Fred Harwin, because Bob Brown in the clinic at UIC had told us about him when we were learning to make acrylic eyes. Fred Harwin is a well known ocularist and medical artist who resides and works in Portland. He is particularly well known for his prints of irises with surprise pictures inside, and also for making ocular pieces with hidden images or logos just to the edge, something personal that the patient requests. This practice speaks to some of my own thoughts and ideas about anaplastology in a very fundamental way. From the moment I first learned about the field, I was interested in customizable pieces for patients, not just in the way they match the patient’s own anatomy, but also how they might reflect the patient’s personality, even if it means diverging from realism to do so. This isn’t something that I’ve spoken much about here, in part because I have wondered if the idea’s lack of existing popularity is a product of more knowledgeable anaplastologists knowing better already. So you can imagine that it was exciting to see someone so well established in the field practicing similar ideas already in his own way and with great success and appreciation amongst his patients.
Anyway, that afternoon, Fred Harwin offered Kylie and me a tour of his own clinic in Portland. Naturally we both accepted. I believe this now makes five clinics I have visited, though this was my first to visit that specializes in ocular pieces. And every time I visit one I get a little better sense of just what all one really needs to do this kind of work, and why people are making the kinds of choices that they are when setting them up. It was a great little outing, and Fred was so encouraging of the new energy that he saw in both Kylie and myself to the field. In fact we had such a good time that we wound up stealing him away to the UIC alumni dinner that night. And let me just say what a pleasure it was to meet so many UIC alumni faces, previously unknown, and in particular I’d like to just mention quickly Julia Klien who may just be a kindred spirit in her own right, and Alice Katz, who really founded the anaplastology program which I now attend.
After dinner, my classmates along with a few of the more recent grads decided to go for a drink or two at a nearby bar. Indecisiveness on the choice of bar wound up leading to me marching the lot of us into the next inviting bar I saw, which turned out to be a gay bar, and apparently I was the last to notice this. We had fun, though I did feel a little concern over the comfort level of one or two members of our party, particularly when a few performers from the drag show down the street stopped by with more than a few words to say to our party’s gentlemen. Tasty beer in bell jars, good company, and an easy table for us all to talk was pure win though.
Friday morning I missed the first lecture, but made it over in time to catch Dave Mazierski on Modeling Mitochondria. Some of you reading may already know that one of my best friends is a little obsessed with mitochondria. And while it is true that they are not ultimately part of our DNA and even have their own DNA to speak of, I’m not sure that I quite agree with my friend’s take on them as alien and threatening (though it is a fabulous conspiracy theory). They are something that has been a part of us throughout the entirety of human existence, and may even be the key that made our complex life form possible in the first place. And while they do call a lot of shots inside of our own body, including that of when a cell dies, I don’t so much worry that they are up to something. Rather I find myself wondering if these little guys might not be the key to curing cancer. Perhaps if we managed to communicate somehow and send them to killing off cancer cells specifically, we could finally rid ourselves of the chemotherapy and radiation treatments used today which our good healthy cells only barely manage to survive. But that is another tangent for another day. Suffice it to say that it was a real treat getting to hear Dave Mazierski’s take on these fascinating tiny creatures. In his talk, he went into the discovery of mitochondria, the history of how they were studied, and ultimately what do they really look like. We have all seen the same jelly bean with squiggly lines inside image of mitochondria before, but Dave has been working to discover their true form. And by true form, I mean the multitudes of variations on form that we find in mitochondria, and which are present where. So yes, this was a very cool talk.
And in the interest of getting my semester’s end schoolwork done on time (I have now long since put my trey table back up and returned my seat to it’s upright position for landing), and in giving you all reading a break, I will postpone the continuation of this recap for a later date. In other words…
… to be continued!