11 Aug

Doctors employ many means and methods in their effort to promote health and alleviate suffering. They ask questions and order tests to arrive at accurate diagnoses. They prescribe medications and perform surgeries. But I’ve sometimes found that the most healing thing I can do is simply listen to a person tell his or her story. The internist Rita Charon writes, that

Once, a young woman came to see me with severe and relentless abdominal pain. She was fidgety, spoke in fragmented speech, seemed clearly to be suffering. She had already seen a gastroenterologist, a gynecologist, and an expert in colitis, all of whom had found no abnormality to account for her symptoms. Since this was my first meeting with her, I asked as a matter of routine about the health of her family members. Her father, I learned, had died of liver failure. As she spoke of his horrible suffering—his abdomen swollen with fluid, his muscles spent, his mind clouded—she put both her hands, fingertips interlocked, almost protectively, over her own upper abdomen. I told her that she used the same gesture to discuss her own symptoms as she had to describe her father’s illness. For the first time in the interview, she became still. She looked down at her hands, now in her lap. We were both silent. And then she said, ‘I didn’t know this was about my father.’


Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “Listening

  1. Nancy marroquin

    August 11, 2014 at 3:33 am

    What power there can be in asking simple questions listening to the answers.

  2. Joy

    November 29, 2014 at 2:58 am

    Great example, James, on the power of therapeutic listening to draw out someone’s narrative. So much suffering has non-physical causes. I’m sure you have a busy practice, but kudos for making time for this!


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