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A Piece of My Mind
September 11, 2013

Syntax of Survival

Author Affiliations
  • 1Albuquerque, New Mexico
JAMA. 2013;310(10):1027-1028. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.227192

The words of physicians are often perceived as sacrosanct and can immediately stitch themselves into the patient’s psyche. But “He said not to worry” or “She said it could be a tumor”: the spectrum swings wildly, offering hope and doom, spreading more quickly than the flu, no incubation time necessary. The rushed physician—does he even remember what it was that he said?

Perhaps there is no more important suture than the one threaded with words connecting physician to patient, and patient to the medicine or poison of faith or doubt—each, when misapplied, equally dangerous. So yes, while we love the surgeon who emphatically reassures us that she has done hundreds of these operations and that a lack of pulse in the arm is of no concern, what happens when the patient lies awake in the middle of the night with a growing sense of unease, weighing how the body feels against the certainty of the physician’s proclamations?