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June 7th, 2016

Playwright Lets Audience See Behind the Curtain, Invites Her Physicians on Stage

By In the Loop

Hand pulling back curtain. In her 2014 book, "In the Body of the World," author, playwright and activist Eve Ensler writes that the first time she spoke to Mayo Clinic's Deborah Rhodes, M.D., she couldn't believe she was an actual doctor. "She was a voice, a surprisingly emotional doctor voice," Ensler writes. "At first, it was a bit disconcerting." Only because, Ensler writes, "We have been taught for so long to expect our doctors to be distant and untouchable."

Dr. Rhodes, it turns out, had read an article Ensler had written about atrocities happening to women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and called the author. "She could hardly speak through her tears," Ensler writes. "She was saying, 'I will do anything to help. What can I do?'" (Dr. Rhodes and others from Mayo would later travel to the Congo with Ensler to offer medical services and supplies to those in need.) The response took Ensler by surprise, she writes, because Dr. Rhodes "had not been my doctor. I had not been her patient." 

That would change, however, in March 2010. In her book, Ensler writes that when she was diagnosed with cancer, she called Dr. Rhodes, who told her, "Get on a plane. Come here (to Mayo Clinic). Come now." Ensler's book highlights the care she received at Mayo Clinic, including how Sean Dowdy, M.D., and Eric Dozois, M.D., teamed up to perform a surgery that Ensler says "saved her life."

Ensler recently turned her book into a play, and last month she invited Drs. Rhodes, Dowdy and Dozois to a performance at the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University. Dr. Dowdy calls the medical component of Ensler's play "an honest appraisal" of her health care experience. "It's an 85-minute monologue," he tells us. "The whole experience of having cancer was very meaningful for Eve, and I got to see that first-hand. I'd never really seen it in that kind of detail or from that perspective before."

After Ensler's performance, Drs. Dowdy, Rhodes, and Dozois were invited onstage for a Q&A session called Act II. "The director interviewed us about taking care of Eve and about the work we had done with her in the Congo," Dr. Dowdy says.

It was just one more memorable experience in what he says has been an "educational" relationship with Ensler. "It's been a real learning experience for all of us to get the kind of feedback that we got with her play," Dr. Dowdy says. "I now have a different understanding of what empathy is after having had this experience with Eve."

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Tags: Dr. Deborah Rhodes, Dr. Eric Dozois, Dr. Sean Dowdy, Eve Ensler, Humanities in Medicine, Medical Education Stories, Patient Stories

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