When dance and medicine mesh
MEDICAL DOCTOR Diane Brathwaite is as light on her feet as she is skilled with her hands. While tending to patients suffering from diabetes, she is also heavily involved in using dance as a medium for the disabled community to not only have fun with the artistic expression, but to improve their physical strength and a wider range of movement.
In May this year, she realised one of her major goals – she choreographed and staged a dance performance called Shine Your Light 2017: An Evening Of Music And Dance Theatre at the Derrick Smith School where several of her students with differing abilities got to showcase their talent.
The production was to raise awareness for people with disabilities and also to improve the dance infrastructure for people with not just physical but also cognitive disabilities.
The pint-sized lass said while she was studying in Britain, where she was born, she did a workshop that had both people with abilities and able-bodied and loved it.
“What I found is that the people with differing abilities were more confident . . . stronger dancers, even if they were not technically strong there was something about them that when they moved you just had to stop and watch and admire them for that special thing they brought to movement,” Brathwaite said.
When she returned to Barbados, she spoke to the Barbados Council for the Disabled (BCD) to do some of those workshops. However, what she found was that the locals were the opposite of those in Britain.
“They were a lot shyer. They were like, what do you mean dance?” Brathwaite said.
In that first workshop with the BCD, after five minutes the participants were completely floored and winded.
Fast forward to now and Brathwaite said the improvement in physical strength of the participants was most pleasing: “Once they started practising you saw those things improving very quickly. It just points to the benefits of physical activity. The challenging thing about it was figuring out how they learn best, so it was about an individualised approach to harnessing their movement potential and skill,” she said.
On her medical side, Brathwaite wants to raise awareness of the need for a multidisciplinary approach to diabetes treatment. She serves as the clinical director of the Maria Holder Diabetes Centre where she has worked from the inception three years ago and is the holder of postgraduate qualifications in diabetes and endocrinology.
As a doctor with over 20 years’ experience, Brathwaite said, “That was always my plan, my desire for a long time when I was a junior doctor at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, I noticed that there was a lot of unnecessary suffering because of diabetes and suffering among young people which should not be. I would meet people in their 30s and 40s and I would say you are living the life of someone who is in their 70s.”
Brathwaite said after thinking how she could contribute to doing something different to treat diabetes she left her job as the registrar in internal medicine and went back to Britain to study. She also worked in diabetes centres all over Britain and was exposed to different methods of care that were not used in Barbados but could make the treatment much better for locals.
“In Britain, there is a collaborative approach, a multidisciplinary approach to treating diabetes; they really network with each other very strongly, and the care providers needed, including diabetes specialist nurses, nutritionists, podiatrists, foot surgeons, physiotherapists. So treatment is not purely doctor-centred,” Brathwaite said.
The need for ongoing education while treating diabetes, especially intensive nutrition education was stressed by Brathwaite.
“Those who are empowered and are more confident about taking care of themselves and making decisions about their own self-management and self-care are the people who do better down the road,” she said.
Brathwaite said there was a need for access to a variety of specialised health care providers who collectively assist in the diabetic care and management.
While she is not prepared to give or take, but dedicate herself to both areas of her passion, Brathwaite said for her dance has always been an integral part of her life. “I have danced forever, I probably stopped a bit in my teens and I stopped when I was in medical school,” she said.
However, after medical studies were complete, Brathwaite took leave from medicine to pursue studies in dance. “It was something I always wanted to study and I did postgraduate and graduate dance,” she said.
“When I was in Britain studying one of the best things I have ever done was dance. It keeps me as a very balanced person and I don’t think I can function without it.”
She said there were certain things about dance that she was very passionate about, namely choreography, improvisation and physical theatre.
“I am not so much the ballerina kind of girl. I love the floor and doing things that allow me to be highly expressive. I have moved from censoring myself because, for me personally, I don’t think you give the art full dues if you have to censor yourself all the time with what you do,” Brathwaite said. (LK)