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A Piece of My Mind
November 27, 2018

Seeing the Present Through the PastHistory, Empathy, and Medical Education

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
JAMA. 2018;320(20):2079-2080. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.17253

My father has many stories he likes to tell from his time as an internal medicine resident, but one story that he does not like to tell has always interested me the most. It goes like this: one night in 1984 he was an intern covering the emergency department at a San Francisco hospital when a man about his age walked in with excruciating neck pain. The man’s neck was very stiff. In fact, he had trouble touching his chin to his chest when my father asked him to. The patient requested that the lights in the room be kept off because they hurt his eyes. He thought it was nothing, probably just a sprained muscle, and he had come to the emergency department for a neck brace to ease the pain, so he could get some sleep.

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