When best-selling author Khaled Hosseini, MD, took the stage at Stanford’s recent Medicine and the Muse symposium, he smiled, shook his head and said, “Those student performances were amazing. I am not sure how I can follow that.” The performances Hosseini referred to were those of numerous medical students and included a soulful dance set to the song “Say Something” by Great Big World, an emotional spoken word poem, a performance of Chopin, a documentary film clip, an opera singer, and a playful dueling instrumental performance featuring an Indian drum and violin.
In addition to these performances, art and photography created by medical students was on exhibit in the lobby of the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge. One art piece was a tree adorned with thank-you notes written to patients by several fourth-year students. One note read:
It’s unfair that all I can say is “Thank you”
Because I learned and benefited from…
your body and mind and spirit
I am honored to have had a chance to care for you, learn from you, and witness your resilience
Hosseini himself had a chance to see one of his former patients, who came to the event and brought his medical record for Hosseini to sign. “I guess I did all right for you,” Hosseini laughed, “You are here.”
Before the book-signing, the overflow crowd was silent and attentive as Hosseini answered questions about his writing and Afghanistan posed by Paul Costello, chief communications officer for the School of Medicine. Hosseini shared that as a 15-year old coming to America from Afghanistan, he struggled. “To be a 15-year old in an American high school, not knowing how to speak English. That was tough. I was invisible.” When Costello asked Hosseini about his hope for Afghanistan, particularly after the April 5 elections, he said, “I hope there is a new future for Afghanistan. A future of peace, not war. Did you know that 64 percent of the Afghan population is under the age of 24? And their heroes are people like Steve Jobs… There is so much more to the country of Afghanistan than what is portrayed on television.”
Several students and spouses in attendance were also veterans of the U.S. War in Afghanistan. Shannon Barg, who served in the U.S. Army as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot and is participating in a writing workshop for student veterans sponsored by the Arts, Medicine and Humanities program, brought the copy of The Kite Runner she had read “over and over” in Afghanistan for Hosseini to sign. “That book was so important to me over there,” she said. “I can’t believe I had this chance to meet him.”
When asked about his days as a physician, Hosseini joked that his patients would spend more time talking to him about his books than about their ailments. “So I had to step down, for the sake of their health.” Although he derived satisfaction from helping patients as a medical doctor, Hosseini believes he can perhaps have a further reach with the humanitarian work his writing allows him to pursue. He has established the Khaled Hosseini Foundation to bring humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan, building shelters for refugee families and providing economic opportunities, education, and health care for women and children of Afghanistan, and he recently wrote about his work with Syrian refuges in a New York Times op-ed.
“We are all part of humanity,” Hosseini said, “And we should try to help one another.”
Jacqueline Genovese is assistant director of the Arts, Humanities, and Medicine Program within the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics. Medicine and the Muse 2014 was made possible by the generous support of Stanford School of Medicine, the Medicine & the Muse Medical Humanities Program, Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, the Biomedical Ethics and Medical Humanities Scholarly Concentration, the Drs. Ben and A. Jess Shenson Funds, and a Stanford Arts Institute SPARK Grant.
Previously: Intersection of arts and medicine a benefit to both, report finds and Stanford’s Medicine and the Muse symposium features author of “The Kite Runner”
Photos by Norbert von der Groeben