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A Piece of My Mind
September 10, 2014

The Language of Experience

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA. 2014;312(10):1001. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.7848

How do you tell a mother her son is about to die? How do you order chest compressions to be stopped as she holds fast to his hand, pleading with God to let him live? The truth is, there is no right way. It is not a skill that can be taught, not an experience that gets easier, and not one that is ever forgotten.

To practice medicine is to experience great moments of joy, valleys of despair, and everything in between. It is both a triumph and a burden. It is to watch a mother burst into tears at the sound of her daughter’s voice—shuttered for months from a breathing tube. Or to watch as a father rolls his hand over his pregnant wife’s abdomen, feeling for his baby, as cancer ravages his body. It is to cave in humility when a mother in Bangladesh hands a coin—her monthly earnings—to an American physician who makes thousands of times more every day, so her child can have life-changing surgery.

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