Among physicians with a humanistic soul, perhaps no quotation is more fondly remembered than one from Dr Francis Peabody. He was born in 1881 to a prominent New England family, trained at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital and was the first director of the Thorndike Laboratory at Boston City Hospital. Tragically, he died of sarcoma at age 46.
Posts Tagged ‘empathy’
Continuing from the last post, recall that in my practice a large majority of over 7000 patients with medically unexplained symptoms were referred due to failure to grasp the their psychosocial issues.
Death of a family member is a source of stress that most of us experience eventually. Despite this, it is an uncommon subject for film. A wonderful exception is Departures, an Oscar-winner from 2008 (Best Foreign Language film, Japanese title Okuribito), directed by Yojiro Takita.
I had never heard of Mississippi writer Barry Hannah until he died two months ago at age 67. The obituaries quoted many well-known authors who revered him and prominently mentioned his award-winning short story collection Airships (1978). When my writer friend Peter also praised it I put in an order.
A great work of fiction is not only a pleasure but also can expand the breadth and depth of your empathic skill. In the last post I wrote about a non-fiction book and a film. Today I want to look at a novel and in the next post a collection of short stories.
Empathy, the ability to feel what it is like to be another human being, is a key diagnostic tool in the arsenal of clinicians who diagnose stress illness. (You can read a series of posts about this by clicking on the tag ’empathy’ below.)
At a high school track meet some years ago, one of my sons high-jumped over a bar set at 6’10” (2.08m). If I had spent my entire youth with the best high jump coach in the world I could not have come close to that. I remember telling my children that our abilities resemble Manhattan island, with some buildings reaching a great height and others much lower. (My ability in carpentry resembles a hole in the ground in that analogy.)
Continuing the story of Carla’s uncontrolled vomiting, I had concluded that it was due to her fear of divine retribution for having a child outside of a marriage and then giving the child up for adoption. She feared that God would punish her by causing her unborn second child to be malformed or diseased.
Continuing the story of Carla’s uncontrolled vomiting, at that time I had much to learn about stress illness. Weeks were needed to see how the pieces fit together because, as is usually the case, Carla herself did not comprehend and could not explain what was happening. The first clue was that her illness began when she was a teenage unwed mother who gave up her son for adoption. Second, when Carla was a child, her mother lived just 20 miles away but completely ignored her, causing Carla to feel unworthy and to assume guilt for many life events. Third, she had a strong belief in a God that played a direct, active role in her daily life.