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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Oliver Sacks’ memoir: That good doctoring requires

In reviewing Oliver Sacks’ memoir, On the Move:  A Life, book reviewer Andrew Solomon captured the spirit of narrative medicine.  I once saw a carpenter at work, tapping a nail once to set it, and then with a decisive second stroke, driving it all the way home.  Solomon hit the nail on the head just like that:

“The emergent field of narrative medicine, in which a patient’s life story is elicited in order that his immediate health crisis may be addressed, in many ways reflects Sacks’ belief that a patient may know more about his condition than those treating him do, and that doctors’ ability to listen can therefore outrank technical erudition.  Common standards of physician neutrality are in Sacks’ view cold and unforgiving – a trespass not merely against a patient’s wish for loving care, but also against efficacy.  Sacks has insisted for decades that symptoms are often not what they seem, and that while specialization allows the refinement of expertise, it should never replace the generalism that connects the dots, nor thwart the tenderness that good doctoring requires.” 

In Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, among other books, Sacks describes how he acts as an ally with patients.  He doesn’t cure them, but as a caring thought partner with them, he finds ways to free them from the most imprisoning limitations of their plights.

Advice:   Let’s read Oliver Sacks’ memoir.

Read an example of the use of narrative medicine.  Thanks to Andrew Solomon for his book review in The New York Times of May 17.