I have long been a fan of Abraham Verghese, mostly from his writing in The New Yorker, but also elsewhere. I’ve never met him, no (although I might have… ahhhh opportunities lost) but the beauty of this man shines through with ineffable brillance, yet always cloaked with a simple humility.
There are few people who I admire deeply, most of my heroes have tumbled down from that high pedestal over the years as I learned more and saw through some of the smoke and mirrors around them. One of those who still remains steady up there is the healer. There is something magical in the way a healer listens, interprets the body’s signs, uncovers secrets not readily available. He speaks of the importance the “laying on of hands” and the ritualistic nature of the physical exam in an inspiring NY Times article as well as in his interview with NPR:
“If you look at the physician exam –- one individual coming to another, telling them things they would not tell their spouse or rabbi or priests, and then, incredibly, disrobing and allowing touch,” Verghese says. “I think our skills in examining a patient have to be worthy of that kind of trust.”
Worthy of trust. I love that. We are all so vulnerable when we open our robes to the physician, and it seems few really grasp the importance, the gravity of that moment when we do so. In this age of techno medicine, the importance of the time spent between patient and doctor is all the more critical, or we all become “i-patients” as Dr. Verghese says, and in that process things are missed. We all have stories. Mine involves the man I love most deeply, whose life was saved, twice. During a routine exam a cancer was found and later a life-threatening heart disease detected. In both cases it was not the data that unearthed the problem, but a physician who asked questions and listened to the answers, who took the time, who healed.
I digress… I meant to speak of this lovely book which I am reading, which lends further confirmation of the way this man’s mind works, crafting a story in such exquisite prose:
We come unbidden into this life, and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery, and early death which, lest we forget, is the common lot. I grew up and I found my purpose and it was to become a physician. My intent wasn’t to save the world as much as to heal myself. Few doctors will admit this, certainly not young ones, but subconsciously, in entering the profession, we must believe that our ministering to others will heal our woundedness. And it can. But it can also deepen the wound.
Some nights the crickets cry zaa-zee, zaa-zee, thousands of them drowning out the coughs and grunts of the hyenas in the hillsides. Suddenly nature turns quiet. It is as if roll call is over and it is time now in the darkness to find your mate and retreat. In the ensuing vacuum of silence, I hear the high-pitched humming of the stars and I feel exultant, thankful for my insignificant place in the galaxy.