Pills are not the only way for pharmacists to make patients feel better. Staff at the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa have launched a “poetic pharmacy” to supply the general public, patients’ families, and hospital employees with a good word that can excite, make people happy, evoke longing, give hope, and instill courage.
The power of the written word is indisputable, so Rambam decided to mobilize it for the benefit of mass emotional therapy – words of strengthening and encouragement, personalized according to emotional need. Each poem is rolled up in a glass test tube.
What is a poetic pharmacy?
The pharmacy staff working at three different positions located throughout the medical campus offered people a short questionnaire that diagnosed the emotion or feeling they felt most strongly that morning, for example, sadness, loneliness, longing, or worry, and matched the diagnosis with a poem delivered in Hebrew, Arabic, or Russian.
“The responses were very moving,” recalled Mike Schultz, director of the Rambam’s spiritual guidance service. “People expressed a real emotional need and received focused attention that gave them a good feeling. We had patients, family members who asked for a poem for their loved ones, and quite a few hospital employees who themselves needed strengthening. You don’t need more than a few minutes of caring to feel better.”
The initiative was launched by Ayelet Weil-Nebenzahl, who is part of the Rambam's spiritual guidance service team. She was inspired by an Israeli artist named Avishi Khoury who previously founded a poetic pharmacy. The idea of adapting the activity to a place that evokes complex emotions such as a hospital, was the the most natural for the Rambam spiritual guidance service team, so the project was born.
"Poems can sometimes resonate with us in a way we can’t articulate well in words,” says Schultz. “Poets who are skilled in the written word can help us define the emotion and express it and give us the feeling that we are not alone with these feelings. We have chosen poems by the best poets in various languages so we can satisfy everyone’s needs. We saw that the offering of other languages moved Arabic and Russian speakers.”
According to Schultz, Rambam employees were the largest group of applicants for the poetic pharmacy positions, which indicates the emotional challenges that work in the health field can trigger. The feelings and emotional needs that were most frequently diagnosed in the poetic pharmacy positions were the longing for silence and the longing for togetherness or a hug.
“There were those who told us that this was exactly what they needed that morning and even some who asked us for a hug and went on with their day.
“It's amazing how a kind word can raise a smile, improve the heart's murmurs, and give a good feeling. We at the Rambam spiritual guidance service believe in this and recommend that everyone tries it.”