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On Being a Doctor |

Lessons from a Patient

William Rifkin, MD
[+] Article and Author Information

From Waterbury Hospital, Waterbury, CT 06721.


Requests for Single Reprints: William Rifkin, MD, Department of Medicine, Waterbury Hospital, 64 Robbins Street, Waterbury, CT 06721.


Ann Intern Med. 2005;143(4):307-308. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-143-4-200508160-00014
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Lisa was a young woman in her 20s. I thought she might have had bipolar disorder. Early on, after offering my diagnosis, I seemed to have time for her. She received my counsel with appreciation. I listened with at least some attention as she described the horrors of her brief life, which, needless to say, had not been improved by her psychiatric diagnosis. Whenever a patient like Lisa shares with me her tale of misery, I experience the following arc, perhaps common to most doctors: first, horror at how cruel and harsh the world can be, then appreciation of the relatively insignificant hurts I have experienced in comparison, followed finally by compassion and a compunction to “make it all better.” Finally, once reality sets in, I realize that what I have to offer is very unlikely to help in the end. I often feel that I am simply not giving enough.

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