I have been asked a lot lately, owing to the release of my novel Altamont Augie, what writing fiction and being a doctor could possibly have in common? Patients and colleagues seem shocked that the rational, left-brain doctor they have come to know and depend on to deliver technologically complex medical care to patients with kidney failure could produce such a right-brain thing as a novel. Where did this ...

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Pity me as I wish to be pitied. That is the plea of the tortured protagonist in Leo Tolstoy’s brilliant 1886 novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Tolstoy was born in 1828 into Czarist Russia’s landed gentry. Though orphaned at a young age, he enjoyed the typical privileges wealth and title afforded—passive income, summers in the country, and enrollment at Kazan University. But it was later, after dropping out of school and ...

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What do hospice nurses and teenage heroin addicts have in common? One may be an unintended consequence of the other. A pair of articles published recently in two prestigious medical journals help make the case. The Lancet reported that 47 million of the 58 million deaths occurring annually worldwide take place in developing countries, and that of these, fully 27 million die without having received proper palliative care. The article attributes ...

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"See me, feel me." Yes, that’s right, the title of a song played at Woodstock by The Who—at sunrise of the third day, no less—is the title of my post. The song begins with those very words sung in dramatic refrain, followed by four more: Touch Me/Heal Me. The same four imperatives succinctly describe the essence of what patients want from their doctors. But in the age of the EHR (Read more...

In classic Aristotelian drama, there comes a moment when the main character is presented with an insurmountable obstacle, be it physical, psychological, spiritual, or otherwise. The nature of the obstacle forces the character to make a choice: a critical choice, an act of free will that determines the glide path of the rest of the story, irrevocably altering its arc. So it is with the arc of illness, a medical drama ...

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It has been reported that up to 60% of doctors suffer from symptoms of psychological job-exhaustion, or physician burnout, leading to diminished career satisfaction, substance abuse, divorce, quitting the profession, and suicide. An article in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association by Helen Riess, a Harvard psychiatrist, attributes much of this psychosocial carnage to the loss of an empathic connection between doctors and their patients. The author summarizes a ...

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In downtown Los Angeles recently, two very different celebrations went on within walking distance of each other. On West Temple Street, at the beautiful and contemporary Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels—a structure with no right angles in its adobe-colored walls—Catholic Mass was offered throughout the morning, in both English and Spanish. Five blocks south, at the stunningly refurbished Millenium Biltmore Hotel on Grand Avenue, the Council for Secular Humanism, ...

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