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Medical Writings |

Fiction as Resistance

Samuel Shem
[+] Article, Author, and Disclosure Information

Boston, MA 02199

Note: Samuel Shem is the author's pen name. The author's real name is Stephen J. Bergman.

Requests for Single Reprints: Stephen J. Bergman, MD, PhD, MPM Capital 75 Bellevue Street, Newton, MA 02458; e-mail sbergman@mpmcapital.com.

Ann Intern Med. 2002;137(11):934-937. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-137-11-200212030-00022
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I was a writer before I was a doctor. From an early age I was concerned with suffering and understanding, and I often turned to stories for solace. I loved stories long before I knew they were an essence of good doctoring—shared stories that bring solace, understanding, and healing to others. During summers in high school and college, I worked as a toll collector on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, and I asked for the midnight-to-eight shift so that I could read. I remember two summers when I went through all the Russians, in those pre-dawn, quiet moments in my warm booth over the Hudson feeling a sense of connection with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Turgenev. Love and death. My early answers to the question, “What is healing?” came from these stories. I still have a piece of an envelope on which I copied part of a letter Chekhov wrote to an editor who had criticized his story “Ward Number Six”: “The best of writers are realistic and describe life as it is, but because each line is saturated with the consciousness of its goal, you feel life as it should be in addition to life as it is, and you are captivated by it” (1).

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