In an intriguing and honest Q&A between Elizabeth L. Silver and AFLW co-founder David Lott, the author discusses her faith in, and intellectual connection to, the field of medicine despite challenging experiences in her life.
AFLW: Your excerpt, above, expresses a dreamlike connection to medicine and the human body, full of hope, heroism, possibility and wonder. Does that side of medicine still co-exist for you with the harsher reality of what you went through with the sudden illness of your newborn daughter?
Elizabeth L. Silver: It does, actually. I am still in awe of the wonders and magic of modern medicine, but I am now much more aware of its frailties. This is something that physicians and those who work in the medical field understand, but that lay people often do not. Sometimes, it seems as though patients, myself included, think that medicine is all-knowing and will provide you with answers. The reality is that sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. I think it is partially what inspires researchers and clinicians in the field, challenging them to learn more, discover more, invent new treatments. If we as patients can retain that awe but also understand that it is a practice, not a perfect science, evolving over time, that harsh reality might be ever so slightly less so—even when confronting your own mortality or the health of your children.
AFLW: In today’s rapid-paced, everything-now society, how does the tincture of time’s “observe and wait” approach to healing fit with our desire for instant solutions, especially when it comes to our children?
ES: Sadly, I don’t think it fits in with this fast-paced lifestyle all that well. In many ways, it is a juxtapositional prescription for how our world has evolved externally, but not internally. Our bodies have not caught up with the smartphone world of instant gratification, nor might they ever, and as a result, this concept of the tincture of time is very difficult to accept. And of course, it is heightened when it comes to our children. That said, everything with children falls into this “observe and wait” category as you watch your child grow and develop and hit milestones. I have a new child now, a 1 year old boy, and he’s healthy and happy, but I still watch and wait and hope he meets his milestones appropriately. What we experienced with our daughter is in many ways an extreme version of the anxieties all parents face daily with their children’s lives.
AFLW: How have your experiences in medicine—the good the bad and the profoundly difficult—tested and affected what, and the way, you write now?
ES: I didn’t realize before writing this book how much my relationship to medicine has defined so much of who I am. The experiences have invited me to learn more about medicine from a theoretical and intellectual perspective, not just emotional, which in many ways, helped me understand it as a lay person. With a semblance of understanding comes, I hope, extreme respect mixed with profound caution for medicine. My medical experiences have given me a perspective that falls in line with “cautious optimism.” Each day in medicine is better than the previous one; each day we know more, are closer to new cures for disease, are inches closer to answers.
I’ve also fallen in love with the genre of narrative medicine, a growing field of literature that is essential in today’s world. People have important stories to tell about their bodies and health, and the more those stories are in the world, the more connected we become.
AFLW: The practice of medicine and healthcare, in general, seem so uncertain today due to the actions of the current administration and its proponents. Is there still hope for better medicine and healthcare for all?
ES: We are in a time of great uncertainty for healthcare. But the quality of the care and the actual medicine is still ongoing and the same as it was before, if not better with each day. With continued funding, researchers are learning more about degenerative disease and cancer and infectious disease. The question is access to that great care and affordability of that great care, which is something that should never be uncertain, but tragically, is in certain flux. It might be idealistic, but I do still hope for a continuation of the great growth in medicine and healthcare for all.
READ a thought-provoking excerpt from THE TINCTURE OF TIME by Elizabeth L. Silver here.
HEAR Elizabeth L. Silver (THE TINCTURE OF TIME) read at our final salon of the summer, featuring Julia Fierro (THE GYPSY MOTH SUMMER) in reading and conversation with Anthony Breznican (BRUTAL YOUTH), plus guest readers, including 2017 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow Peter H.Z. Hay , THIS SUNDAY, July 30, 4-6 p.m. at Clifton’s in downtown Los Angeles. SEE YOU THERE! RSVP!
Elizabeth L. Silver is the author of the memoir, THE TINCTURE OF TIME: A Memoir of (Medical) Uncertainty (Penguin Press, 2017) and the critically acclaimed novel, THE EXECUTION OF NOA P. SINGLETON (Crown, 2013), which was the Amazon Best Debut of the Month, an Amazon Best Book of the Year, Kirkus Best Book of the Summer and published in seven languages. Elizabeth has been featured by PBS and NPR and her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, Lenny Letter, New York Magazine and The Washington Post, among others. Elizabeth lives with her family in Los Angeles.