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Editor's Comments on 'Hard Bop'

 , August 25, 2017

Hard Bop, at its bare bones, is about the difficult patient encounter. These patients refuse treatment and tend to repel those who try to help. They are often just as frustrated with the situation at hand as the doctors who are treating them. As healthcare providers, it’s easy to brush aside the difficult patient when there are other pressing demands that vie for constant attention. Why pour our energies into helping someone who has refused to comply or doesn’t think they need it? In the hospital we fall into this attitude: Do your duty, no more.

But medical students are put in a strange place. The duty ahead is not as clear, perhaps because the identity tends to be ambiguous as well. Patients see the white coat and think “doctor,” but medical students know themselves that they are not quite physicians, nor merely students. Black understands this dilemma and treads the line with humble care in Hard Bop by seeking to connect with a difficult patient in a way that doesn’t require a medical student, or a doctor, but simply a person who cares.

As someone who was not long ago a medical student, I was easily transported back to a patient room, where I had nothing to offer but time and a listening ear. The scenario—the still room, the delegation of a task I didn’t care to do—was familiar to me, as were the feelings of inadequacy and confusion. Though one could say our duty was to transmit information and get permission from the difficult patient to do something they didn’t want us to do, we knew that it was more than merely obtaining a signature. In Hard Bop we not only read the chronicles of approaching this difficult patient for the first time, but more importantly, we move further into the nebulous: getting to know the difficult patient.

Those who know jazz know that the beauty of it doesn’t lie solely in the music itself. There is a certain intrinsic value about how jazz was birthed in America, how it evolved and re-created itself over the decades. It adapted to the tumultuous times, offering sympathy and solace, and connected listeners to something beyond their present worries. It’s an art form, and it takes an artist to recognize it as such. One could even say that jazz is a resting place, a raft to catch one’s breath in the middle of a stormy sea. Hard Bop provides a respite to catch one’s breath in the hospital and reflect on the encounters that change us. It is a brave look at what happens when you search for ways to connect to your patients, especially the so-called difficult ones. Black observes the emerging person from the difficult patient with humanizing dialogue and easy humor, jazz offering them a bridge to stand on together. Together they allow the music to exist in a space that was previously uninhabitable. It’s a much needed reflection about what kind of help to offer when traditional medicine does not, for some reason, make the patient feel better.

Esther Y Lee