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Books, Journals, New Media
February 28, 2001

FictionThe Diagnosis

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorDavid H.MorseMS, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


Not Available


Copyright 2001 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2001American Medical Association


by Alan Lightman, 369 pp, $25, ISBN 0-679-43615-4, New York, NY, Pantheon Books, 2000.

JAMA. 2001;285(8):1073-1074. doi:10.1001/jama.285.8.1073-JBK0228-2-1

Bill Chalmers is an information analyst who works in Boston. He is 40 years old and obsessed with time. Always in a hurry, frequently gazing at his watch, and submersed in busy schedules, Chalmers is constantly worrying about being late. Yet he appears to enjoy a comfortable life—until one morning in June, when a single, unexpected, and unexplainable event irrevocably alters his life.

While riding on a commuter train, he abruptly forgets his name and his destination. His amnesia is soon accompanied by a tingling and then numbness of his hands and eventually his feet. By the end of the novel, Chalmers is a prisoner in a useless body and confined to a wheelchair. Although his illness causes him no physical pain, his suffering is further accentuated by an ineffectual medical system unable to diagnose his disorder.

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