Seeing the whole person 

I am a recent subscriber to The New Yorker magazine. My line of work calls for continual reading and digesting of scientific findings in journals of the broadly medical nature. As an unfortunate byproduct, reading for pleasure and to fulfill other education needs had taken to falling to second to (many) last priorities, and after general survival duties. 

Summertime is just a tad less busy than the rest of the year and I find it helps me to jump start reading for pleasure again. I’ve picked up a couple books and made it a point to try reading them. I’ve also found that I like the pieces, a variety of written works, in The New Yorker. They are at times refreshing and not unwieldy to read. So, I subscribed, adding to my digital (and physical piles) of reading material. I am hopeful that I will come out of this month happily more well-educated. 

This morning, I wanted to share a short passage that I found to be  well-written, and which also conveys an important idea that should resonate with health care workers out there. It is a piece written by Atul Gawande, a well-known author, who is incidentally sharing insights in Boston on September 15, as he shares the stage with hilarious comedian, TV personality, and inspiring young woman, Mindy Kaling. 

In the Postscript, Gawande writes of his experience learning from Oliver Sacks, sharing a few salient quotes and insights that make me want to read more about Oliver Sacks, a man who perhaps surprisingly had tender feeling towards his observed subjects who he may have seemed to describe with dispassion. 

Atul Gawande writes, quoting  Oliver Sacks’ accounts: “Studies, yes,” he wrote in the preface, but “why stories, or cases?” Because, he explained, the understanding of disease cannot be separated from the understanding of the person. They are interwoven, and this has been forgotten in our era of scans, tests, genetics, and procedures. He compared the modern clinical practitioner to the man who mistook his wife for a hat—able to register many details yet still miss the person entirely. “To restore the human subject at the centre—the suffering, afflicted, fighting, human subject—we must deepen a case history to a narrative or tale,” he wrote.”

Take-home message: Let’s see the whole person. 


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