Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Words of Comfort

Abraham Verghese tells readers of The New York Times about an emergency treatment administered by ear

March 2, 2011 Writer/physician Abraham Verghese has long been on a mission to teach medical students the lost art of the physical exam, and his efforts have been highlighted by The New York Times, NPR, PBS, and Stanford Medicine, among many other media outlets.

Verghese, who received his initial medical training in Ethiopia before emigrating to the U.S. and doing his residency at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, believes that a hands-on approach to medicine can be been lost in the rush to use technology to pinpoint a diagnosis.

Now, in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Verghese writes about why computers and scans are necessary to modern medicine but argues for a balanced approach that will prevent human beings from becoming iPatients who feel neglected by their own doctors even as thousands of dollars are being spent on their care:

“I find that patients from almost any culture have deep expectations of a ritual when a doctor sees them, and they are quick to perceive when he or she gives those procedures short shrift by, say, placing the stethoscope on top of the gown instead of the skin, doing a cursory prod of the belly and wrapping up in 30 seconds. Rituals are about transformation, the crossing of a threshold, and in the case of the bedside exam, the transformation is the cementing of the doctor-patient relationship, a way of saying: ‘I will see you through this illness. I will be with you through thick and thin.’ It is paramount that doctors not forget the importance of this ritual.”

Read the rest of the essay here. Fans of Verghese’s novel Cutting for Stone, which has been on bestseller lists for over a year, will find a wonderful echo from the book at the very end.

Read Chapter 16‘s interview with Verghese here.

For more updates on Tennessee authors, please visit Chapter 16‘s News & Notes page, here.