Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

The Patient as Person, the Diagnosis as Personal

Academic journal article Ethics & Medicine

The Patient as Person, the Diagnosis as Personal

Article excerpt

In her splendid little volume, Medicine as Ministry: Reflections on Suffering, Ethics, and Hope (Pilgrim, 1995), Margaret E. Mohrmann, MD, argues for the importance of paying attention to patients' stories. Over against the temptation to view a patient as a diagnosis, it's crucial, she maintains, to listen carefully to what patients are saying when they present with an illness or injury.

To illustrate her point she recounts a scenario from John Updike's fictional story, "From the Journal of a Leper." The story is about a man who suffers with psoriasis. The diagnosis, "psoriasis," is what Updike calls "a twisty Greek name it pains me to write." The person with the condition, however, describes his suffering in less technical, more vivid, language:

I am silvery, scaly. Puddles of flakes form wherever I rest my flesh. Each morning, I vacuum my bed. My torture is skin deep: there is no pain, not even itching; we lepers live a long time, and are ironically healthy in other respects. Lusty, though we are loathsome to love. Keen-sighted, though we hate to look upon ourselves. The name of the disease, spiritually speaking, is Humiliation.

As Mohrmann points out, it is important to get diagnoses right, whether it's abdominal aortic aneurism, zygomycosis, or some other twisty Greek name. But it is just as important that physicians and nurses listen to the patients' stories. …

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