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Reflection on the film Wit

The film Wit is a television movie based on the Pulitzer Prize winning one-act play written by Margaret Edson in 1995. The play is about the personal story of the woman named Vivian Bearing, dying from stage 4 metastatic ovarian cancer. Vivian is a highly intellectual, rather unemotional, English literature professor, who devoted her life to the study of John Donne’s poetry.

The movie started at Dr.Kelekian’s office where he broke the news of the cancer diagnosis to Vivian and had her agree on undergoing experimental aggressive chemotherapy. From this scene, we can easily recognize Dr.Kelekian’s uncompassionate and insensitive character as he saw Vivian as a subject to study, not the human to care for. Interestingly, Vivian didn’t seem to be very upset about it because she had great passion for knowledge as a scholar and agreed to be the subject of research. However, from her own experience as a patient - psychosocial isolation, inhumane treatment from doctors, and physical suffering from advancing cancer, she discovered that human compassion is more important than intellectual wit.

Much different from impersonal doctors like Dr.Kelekian and Dr.Jason Posner (one of her former students), Susie Monahan RN is the only person who showed humanism toward Vivian. The movie highlight is the so -called popsicle scene, where Susie offered Vivian compassion while sharing popsicles and discussed the option of “do not resuscitate” (DNR). Vivian chose DNR and embraced her death while reciting Donne’s Holy Sonnet X, “ Death Be Not Proud.“ The movie ended with a very sad scene of Vivian’s death while Jason tried resuscitation on her as he failed to recognize her end of life decision - he was insensitive to that matter.

The Wit addressed very important issues among healthcare providers - lack of understanding of the end of life issues and humanistic skills to care for dying patients. Furthermore, it helps us to recognize that we are not well prepared for our emotional responses to caring for seriously ill patients. This is why the play and film Wit has been used widely in the US as a training tool teaching empathy and compassion in medical students, trainees and clinicians.

I found the film Wit very heartfelt and very educational. I would definitely recommend this movie to everyone who is involved in caring for a patient with a serious illness .

< Reference >

Deloney LA, Graham CJ. Wit: using drama to teach first-year medical students about empathy and compassion. Teach Learn Med. 2003 Fall;15(4):247-51. doi: 10.1207/S15328015TLM1504_06. PMID: 14612257.

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