Empathy and the meaning of life as a doctor

In his article “On being sick”, Dr. Ted Burns does much more than generously describing his experience as a patient affected by cancer. He speaks to trainees, in a very humane and direct way.

His powerful message is conscious of the caducity of life “you can walk by a golden ginkgo tree one day and the next morning all the leaves might be on the ground” or, to put it in Pindar’s words “Man is the dream of a shadow”; but it is also a message of hope for any generation of doctors: “my hair will reliably come back when it’s ready to do so”. His view is never pessimistic, and reinforces the power and value of life. Each patient needs to be respected, understood and sometimes held by hand, always with grace, like you would with a friend, even when you hit them with aggressive treatments. Only kindness allows trainees to develop their full potential as doctors. It’s a value that may seem difficult to exercise with the fast pace dictated by training, but if understood early in one’s career, it can make a real difference. Dr. Burns describes what chemo brain is able to do, which is substantially monotasking. Slowing down as you would if you couldn’t multitask, sometimes may be a powerful way for doctors to better understand their patients. Monotasking a good laugh with them may be worth a thousand words.

It seems that Dr. Burns is telling us that our profession is noble and what we do has a meaning only if we do it with our mind and our heart.

Dammit, Ted.

See the full pdf article “On being sick” at http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2017/06/22/WNL.0000000000004170.full.pdf+html

Luca Bartolini

Luca Bartolini

Resident & Fellow Editorial Team Member

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