"Chris Adrian tries things."
With this simple statement, Professor of Medicine Michael Stein encapsulated the achievements of the physician, author and student of theology, who spoke to a half-full MacMillan 117 Wednesday about the intersection of medicine, literature and religion.
A graduate of Eastern Virginia Medical School and the Iowa Writers' Workshop and, Adrian spent most of his talk describing how he discovered the confluence of the three distinct fields.
He told the story of Cindy, a 21-year-old patient he met during his pediatric internship in 2001. Cindy, a life-long sufferer of "short gut syndrome," frequently visited the hospital where Adrian interned, and eventually became addicted to the drug Benadryl. To wean her off the medicine, Adrian gradually reduced her dosage until it was almost zero, finally telling her she was no longer dependent on it.
Her reaction to the news wasn't one of gratitude. Instead, she was angry at being tricked.
This incident served as the inspiration for his short story "A Child's Book of Sickness and Death," told from Cindy's point of view.
"What I came away with was a hyperawareness of trust, but also a great deal of guilt," Adrian said at the lecture. "I was writing a novel at the time, but it drifted into this story without (my) explicitly intending to write about it."
Such experiences led Adrian to consider the interplay between his interests in writing and medicine with religion, he said. Along with his writing, he is attending the Harvard Divinity School and completing a pediatric oncology fellowship in San Francisco.
Throughout his career, Adrian has continued to write, having his fiction featured in magazines such as The Paris Review and The New Yorker.
Ultimately, Adrian said his goal is still to end up as an oncologist who has had ministerial and pastoral care training. Asked by a woman who introduced herself as a teacher how divinity school will affect his position as a doctor, Adrian said he was "a little afraid" of what being a "physician-chaplain" will mean. He expressed uncertainty about how patients would perceive a doctor they knew to have a particular religious affiliation.
"It is hard to reconcile what I see as a physician and what I see in school," he said. "It's not impossible to reconcile the two but I've had trouble finding that place for myself."
Asked by another audience member how he was able to balance his medical responsibilities with his writing and other ventures, Adrian explained that during his residency he frequently wrote after his on-call hours.
"I'd fall asleep on the keyboard and wake up with pages and pages of unintelligible face-on-keyboard text," he said. Though he often had time off during which he could write, most of his progress was made between his busy work hours "when writing is the mildly forbidden thing."
Adrian spoke as part of the 17th annual Harriet W. Sheridan Literature and Medicine Lecture, which began in 1993 in honor of Sheridan, a late dean and professor of English who believed that literature and writing were critical to the training of physicians.