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The Literature of Medicine |

The Internist's Reading: One Kind of “Success”

Abraham Verghese, MD
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Requests for Reprints: Abraham Verghese, MD, Texas Tech Medical Center, 4800 Alberta Avenue, El Paso, TX 79905.

Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1994;121(10):821-822. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-121-10-199411150-00022
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As a busy internist, it has been easy for me to justify forsaking nonmedical reading in order to keep up with the journals, the monographs, the updates, and the “Seminars in __” that pile up on my office desk and eventually spill off of my nightstand at home. But in this era of AIDS, the reading of fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction has taken on a different quality for me, I might even say an urgent quality: Fiction and poetry allow me to freely cross the boundaries that limit me in the daytime. For all of the sophisticated medical technology that surrounds me, the thing I cannot do during my hospital hours is get into the minds of my patients and see their thoughts; I cannot turn back time; I cannot control the universe but am instead controlled by it; I cannot prevent the inexorable decline of the CD4 count … . And ultimately, no matter what our particular specialties, none of us can conquer death—not our own nor that of our patients. But in the magical world of fiction and in the related world of our dreams, we conquer all these obstacles; we achieve, from our reading, from the safety of our recliners and our beds, the kind of success we are denied at other times. This kind of “success” is necessary to balance the realities of medical practice.

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