Abraham Verghese, MD, MFA, DSc (Hon)
Note: This paper was presented in modified form as the Nicholas E. Davies Memorial Lecture at the 2000 American College of Physicians–American Society of Internal Medicine Annual Session on 13 April 2000.
Acknowledgments: The author thanks Martha Cornog and Delese Wear for their invaluable advice and assistance in preparing this manuscript.
Excerpt from Chekhov by Henri Troyat (originally published in France under the title Tchekhov, Flammarion, 1984; translation by Michael Henry Heim, 1986) reprinted with permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc.
Requests for Single Reprints: Abraham Verghese, MD, Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, 4800 Alberta Avenue, El Paso, TX 79905
Verghese A. The Physician as Storyteller. Ann Intern Med. 2001;135:1012-1017. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-135-11-200112040-00028
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2001;135(11):1012-1017.
As physicians, most of us become involved in the stories of our patients' lives. Sometimes we are simply witnesses, chroniclers of the story in the medical chart. But often we become players in the stories. Our actions change the narrative trajectory, or else the patient's or the family's rendering of the story credits us with influencing the story. We may, as Arthur Frank suggests (1), become the “spokesperson” for the disease, and our patients' stories “come to depend heavily on repetition” of what we say. The following excerpt from Troyat's biography of Chekhov illustrates how a physician becomes player and catalyst in a story (2). Anton Chekhov, who was both writer and physician, died young of tuberculosis. In the last days of his life, Chekhov left his home in Russia and went to Germany, to a spa near the Black Forest. As his condition worsened, he sought the aid of the spa physician, Dr. Schwöhrer, who was given the difficult task of caring for a dying physician.
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