Jul 27, 2010


I have to admit I love stories as a kid. I think both my babysitter and my kindergarten teacher can bear witness to my loving for stories - I am least noisy and a troublemaker whenever it is storytelling time. I can finish the "Collection of 365 Stories" (meant to last for 1 year) in 2 days' time, back when I was in primary school; and listened to 7 days' worth of cassettes in an afternoon, sleeping on my belly while flipping through the read-along book.
I don't think it has anything to do with my reading skills - my reading speed was below average, and I am always too lazy to look up words I don't know. It has to do with my hunger for stories - the plot, the characters, the suspense and the resolution. Back then children stories were simple-minded and peppered with moral values, be it filial piety, being nice to strangers (still applicable nowadays?), sharing among friends or such. I knew children story writers would reach one of these some way or another, but how they get there is what I loved most. It wasn't until much later when I read Gogol or Chekhov I started to realize plot twisting was cool, and unchildish.

Anyway, with hospital clerkship less than 3 months away, I realize story listening is a very important aspect in physician's practice. Patients may come and go with the same disease, but the process of getting ill is usually the essence in medical care.
Take an example, a granny is repeatedly being admitted for fractures. A doctor who doesn't like story listening will repeatedly treat her fractures and send her home; a doctor with a good sense of curiosity and loves story listening delve into her problem and, say, find out she lives in an apartment with no elevator, and that granny, living alone, walks up and down 4 floors everyday 3 times daily. In the morning she carries a day's worth of groceries and food, the afternoon enough cash for her mahjong session, and in the evening the day's worth of garbage to throw away. If this doesn't translate to weak bones and frequent falls, nothing else does. Subsequent correspondence will solve the problem to its roots.
I believe many among us go to see doctors because we have a story to tell. I'm one amongst those labeled by doctors as 'the talkative, difficult type' - the last time I got scrub typhus, I went through the entire process of how I contracted the disease to how unsuspecting I was, thinking it was just common cold. And how my pathology professor said I have a 10% chance of dying if untreated to how I come to the hospital and gone to the wrong department. Of course, my doctor, also vice-chair of Tzu Chi General Hospital, stopped me by my 30th second.
I agree that most of the time the patients talk too much - their pets, their neighbors, husbands who cheated on them, children who don't listen anymore - which is why they come see a doctor. Modern research indicates even if patients were allowed to talk without interruption, the most they can go on talking when doc feels frustrated is 30 seconds to a minute. So that's not too bad afterall.
What this translates to a common layperson is this: talk less, listen more. You actually gain more by listening instead of yakking away gossips or how hard your life is. And when your doctor stops you, send him this link.