Oliver Sacks, professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University, talks about the relationship between medicine and humanism. In the video he also tells a personal anecdote of how he looked at the individual behind the disorder.
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The Relationship Between Medicine and Humanism When I was a medical student fifty years ago, one of my professors once said to me he said “Sax’s, we have a patient here who is delirious” he says “Go see the delirium in room six”. He didn’t tell me anything about the human being who was delirious. It was the delirium in room six. This is partly how doctors speak or the appendix in room eight. This turned out to be a very intelligent and delightful old tea planter who would spend much of his time in the Far East. And in his delirium, I listened to him for hours in his delirium. And basically, an entire life, the events of a life, his journeys, his loves, his passion, his ambitions and every thing was somehow mixed up in this delirium and I realize that there’s no way he was presenting an entire life and this sort of strange confused incoherent terms. And I started to listen. And after a while, I started to join in and make some comments. I was actually almost like someone being previewed to a dream. But this made me feel very strongly that this wasn’t just a delirium. This was a particular human being who was delirious and one had to address him. And so the particular human being has always been central form me. It’s not enough to say, “That’s a migraine, that’s Parkinsonism.” You have to say what is life like for this particular person with migraine or Parkinsonism or whatever—how did they experience it, how did they respond—and so the human element and talking about life with something. Certainly, it needs to be in a central part of medicine. I think it’s used to be and then sometimes in the sort of mass medicine and quick diagnosis and even with things like brain imaging. I think there’s a tendency sometimes just to give a diagnosis and forget it. But certainly, that’s people have to live with it.

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