Surely, one of the best things about the practice of narrative medicine is that it allows doctors to reveal that they are just as human as the rest of us – capable of egregious mistakes as well as heroic deeds.
We learn in medical school to take full social, family and physical histories with a new patient. We use checkboxes to run down the list of points in each history. We are taught to be thorough and document each answer. Often though, between the checkboxes and lists, the patient’s story is forgotten.
There’s something you should know about your doctor’s clinical judgement: It relies on a flawed premise. As doctors, our medical education conditions us to look for patterns. Pattern recognition allows us to triage and identify emergencies. It helps us distinguish pulled muscles from heart attacks. It’s a powerful, if imperfect, tool.
Jenny Qi's poem first caught my attention because I carry two lines from Bob Hass: All the new thinking is about loss / In this it resembles all the old thinking. Death is the great equalizer, each of us must confront mortality.
In my article ‘Semantics in the Elevator’ a doctor reflects on his culpability after a colonoscopic perforation (not based on a real incident). The patient’s anatomy is fleetingly blamed; then he considers the fact that he just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time – the perforation could well have happened if a colleague had been doing the procedure.