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September 15, 2014

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Making medical jargon easy with comic strips

EDITOR’S note:

WECHAT, the popular online social networking app, is home to many public accounts, where people with a particular field of interest publish useful and entertaining information.

The accounts are part of what is called “we media” — a format that allows anyone to share knowledge.

Shanghai Daily is introducing a new series to meet the people behind the public accounts and see what motivates them. We welcome reader suggestions about public accounts worth a closer look.

Dr Chen Haiyan combines her medical expertise with her artistic talent when she draws weekly comic strips and posts them on a nonprofit public account she has opened on the social networking app WeChat.

The cardiac ultrasonography doctor at the Shanghai Zhongshan Hospital already has more than 2,000 followers on her “EbiEhua” account, which began on August 4 and has so far published nine pieces. “I have always had a thing for drawing since I was a little girl, and I’m so happy that my work and my hobby can dovetail in such a productive way,” said the 32-year-old Chen.

She has never had any professional training in drawing. Between the rigors of medical school and then the long hours at the hospital, Chen didn’t have the time to develop her artistic bent. In fact, it lay dormant for years until her son Dongdong began learning to draw in kindergarten.

Fittingly, her first comic strip online was about Dongdong, who likes to thumb through Chen’s medical books and ask questions about the pictures in them. Once, when Dongdong was waiting for Chen to finish work at the hospital, he recognized a pericardial disease diagram on a screen and let slip some medical jargon that astounded a doctor within earshot.

“A picture is often worth a thousand words,” Chen said. “For many patients, it is easier for them to understand medical jargon through pictures that reduce complexity to simple language.”

In her second comic strip, Chen tried to explain heart septal defects. She drew a heart in four parts – left and right atria, and left and right ventricles. She then compared the left atrium and ventricle to a men’s bathhouse and the right atrium and ventricle to a women’s.

Chen said heart septal defects are just like holes on the wall between the men’s and the women’s bathhouses, which need repairing urgently. Some holes repair themselves, while others need to be covered with a patch.

In another comic strip, Chen explained the basics of what causes high blood pressure, a high-incidence malady in China, and how it can be controlled.

Lively illustrations

With lively illustrations and sometimes humorous texts, Chen tries to reduce the science of medicine to everyday language. She also shares her personal feelings and experiences as a medic, hoping to break down walls of distrust between doctors and patients.

“Many patients don’t know what doctors do every day, and they complain that doctors see them for a few minutes after they have been waiting in line for hours,” Chen said.

In one comic strip entitled “busy hospital,” Chen depicted a day in the life of a doctor, from seeing patients to checking wards and doing surgeries. The illustration also pointed out the hours of study and research doctors that undertake after work and on weekends.

“The idea of this comic strip series is to show the real life of doctors and nurses,” she said. “They are indeed very busy, but they are busy because they are working for the good of patients. It’s important that people understand that.”

Chen said she is concerned about often tense doctor-patient relationships and appalled at physical assaults on doctors that have occurred in recent years.

Her comic strips try to portray doctors as human beings with foibles like anyone else. For instance, she recounted the story of a respiratory specialist who was so busy every day examining the chest radiography of patients that she had trouble remembering patients’ faces.

Like most doctors, Chen works from 8am to 5pm, seeing up to 70 patients a day. She said she seldom drinks water because toilet breaks take up too much valuable time. Many doctors remain unmarried until later ages because they are simply too busy to date, she said.

Her drawings are popular because they are simple and clear. She uses a pencil to sketch a draft and a black pen to draw the outlines. Most of the pictures are in black and white because Chen doesn’t have time to color them in. Every drawing is scanned into a computer.

The only colored installment in the comic series is one she drew about her family as a gift for her father’s birthday. In it, Chen depicted her evolution from a girl to a wife to a mother, and her parents’ evolution to becoming grandparents.

“People sometimes forget that doctors have families, too,” she said. “When our families understand the work we do and how busy we are, it’s a source of support and comfort.”

Chen said she receives helpful feedbacks from subscribers and other doctors. Some medics want her to depict their stories. Some followers suggest that her drawings become even lighter and more humorous. “That’s a big advantage of publishing on social media,” she said. “You hear from people and know what they like and dislike.”

Chen updates her public account about once a week. Though the drawings take up precious leisure time, she said she has no plans to give up the series.

“I will keep drawing no matter how many subscribers there are and no matter how many people I can affect.”


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