Scope – Stranford Medicine (Stanford, CA), April 24, 2015
Stanford’s Abraham Verghese, MD, greeted hundreds of journalists at the Association of Health Care Journalists 2015 conference with a talk centered on the power of stories and of medicine.
There are many types of stories that need to be told, Verghese encouraged his audience. Tell about the company that dominates medical-record keeping, of families who can’t allow their loved ones to pass away peacefully, of young physicians and students who are determined to place patients first, despite the dominance of technology.
And perhaps most importantly, writers should tell the story of medicine itself: of what it can and cannot do, of where it has been and where it is going.
In that vein, Verghese shared a story with his rapt audience. As a physician in rural Tennessee in the 1980s, he cared for many patients with HIV/AIDS. At the time, doctors had no drugs, nothing that could thwart the disease’s progress. Yet when one patient’s mother called the clinic one day, saying her son was too sick to come in, Verghese said he felt compelled to visit the family in their rural trailer home. He wasn’t ready for the patient to die without seeing him again. “My visit had a profound effect on him and the family. It helped them come to terms and showed that I wouldn’t abandon them,” Verghese said.
This was a revelation, he admitted. This is what doctors did before antibiotics and sterile operating rooms and medical devices galore. “They were able to heal, even when they could not cure.” And that is a power that today’s doctors should never forget, he said.
“Stories are the units of life; they’re how we extract meaning,” Verghese said.
Subjects Covered: medicine