The Turkish twin physicians, Saints Cosmas and Damian, are martyred during widespread persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian in Syria. Stones, arrows and the rack prove miraculously ineffective; beheading is their final fate.
In life they are said to have healed the sick without charge and carried on doing so long after their death. They are said to have healed the sick at night and, in a more colourful episode, they are said to have grafted the leg of a recently deceased Ethiopian onto the leg of a Roman deacon. They are the patron saints of doctors, nurses, surgeons, pharmacists, dentists and barbers.
It was one of the first times that I have contributed to an inter-institutional, interdisiplinary discussion, and certainly the first time that I have been asked to contribute to the definition and elaboration of an emerging disipline. I tend to shudder when someone says the word ‘networking’ but this seems necessary and possible in medical humanities, in a way that was different when I was completing my PhD. Working on the subject of waste was a relatively lonely experience. Though geographers and environmentalists made a noise there was no established, collaborative arrangement, with the continuity and funds, to steer the field. I suspect that academic discussions concerning the idea of waste will continue to be circular and fragmented, despite the interesting work being done by people like Max Liboiron and her Discard Studies site. Medical humanities, as a disipline, is a very different kind of animal; terrifically plural but highly organised. It seems able to draw on a number of funding sources and, most exciting of all, there seems a real interest in encouraging the ideas of postgraduates. Thanks to Stuart Murray and Clare Barker for inviting us and organising such an interesting discussion. I hope that the ideas that were put around in this meeting will come to fruition in the next months and years.