As part of Grassroots Comics, a social venture that uses comics as a means of communication, Sharad Sharma had conducted many workshops. But never one with doctors. He feared there might not be many takers because, as he acknowledged, it was an idea that many might consider “crazy”.
“I was going to offer comics as graphic medicine,” said Sharma. “The idea was to introduce this medium to doctors and therapists as a way to communicate better with patients or to simplify medical jargon. But I wasn’t sure whether this would be accepted as a serious idea or worth their time.”
However, as he reached the the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi last month, Sharma was told that almost 30 people had registered for the workshop, even though there were only 25 seats. There were surgeons, physiotherapists and lab technicians in attendance, all eager to learn.
Armed with paper, pencil and erasers, Sharma first got them comfortable with drawing. “Many are intimidated by the idea of drawing and give up even before they begin, thinking it’s too hard,” said Sharma, who believes in “ABCD” – anybody can draw. “It is not about the art. It’s about the story. The focus should be on communicating. If it successfully tells a story, then it is well drawn, no matter what the quality of the image is.”
Those attending the workshop were encouraged to practice drawing patterns in the air before putting pencil to paper and sketching basic figures. Next they were told to break the narrative into four panels and to tell a story in short, clear sentences. Incidents from their lives, red tape in a government hospital, ideal patient care were some of the chosen story subjects.
The resultant illustrations were simple, but each had an important message, even if told dramatically. “I was surprised at the self-critical nature of some of the stories,” said Sharma. “They were not shying away from addressing some of their flaws.”
While laboratory technologists Vidushi Uniyal and R Lakshay based their comics on the dangerous carelessness of some of their peers, doctors reflected on how they were sometimes remiss in tending to patients. Senior resident Ashutosh Kumar injected humour into his comic by noting that all the doctors were off celebrating Doctor’s Day – which fell on the workshop’s first day – and that there was nobody to see patients.
Issues like the thankless nature of their job and patients’ apathy too came up at the workshop. While some threw light on the need to donate blood regularly, others tried to lift the stigma associated with mental illnesses. Dr Maunita Kanjilal from the Department of Rheumatology raised the problem of faith healing. In her comic she lamented that so many people place their hopes in babas and yogis, delaying proper medical attention in the process.
According to Yogesh Kumar, educational media generalist at AIIMS, the doctors have requested for more such workshops. “Those who could attend the workshop were extremely pleased,” said Kumar. “They were being able to express themselves and in such a creative way too. The posters created by them have already been displayed in places where the patients can see them. They want to learn more of this form of expression, so that they can begin using this medium in their everyday operations.”
Medical social service officer Vivek Kumar Singh, who drew a comic on the Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi, a government scheme providing financial assistance to patients, has started distributing copies of his work to create awareness about the provision.