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A Piece of My Mind
June 13, 2012

A Moment’s ThoughtHow to Tell a True Medical Story

Author Affiliations

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland (cgardn12@jhmi.edu

JAMA. 2012;307(22):2381-2382. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.5359

You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let's say, and afterward you ask, “Is it true?” and if the answer matters, you’ve got your answer.—Tim O’Brien, “How to Tell a True War Story” (The Things They Carried)

One of the first patients I interviewed on my own in medical school was a warm and energetic man in his mid-90s who, having slipped on a patch of ice the week before, had come to get a few stitches taken out of his lower lip. I was halfway through my first year and my heart sank as I looked at his list of medications and past health problems; for most of them, I knew just enough to know that I didn't know anything. It was the second week of clinic and I had no idea where to begin trying to help this man who had outlived his wife and daughter and was now waiting, more patiently than I could have expected, for the physician across the hall to finish. So we just ended up talking for 15 minutes, about his life at first, but, later, also about Baltimore and medical school and the path that had brought me there.

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