Stories from the ER: a doctor shows how empathy, creativity, and imagination are the cornerstones of clinical care.
To be an emergency room doctor is to be a professional listener to stories. Each patient presents a story; finding the heart of that story is the doctor's most critical task. More technology, more tests, and more data won't work if doctors get the story wrong. When caring for others can feel like venturing into unchartered territory without a map, empathy, creativity, imagination, and thinking like a writer become the cornerstones of clinical care. In Tornado of Life, ER physician Jay Baruch shares these struggles in a series of short, powerful, and affecting essays that invite the reader into stories rich with complexity and messiness.
Patients come to the ER with lives troubled by scales of misfortune that have little to do with disease or injury. ER doctors must be problem-finders before they are problem-solvers. Cheryl, for example, whose story is a chaos narrative of “and this happened, and then that happened, and then, and then and then and then,” tells Baruch she is “stuck in a tornado of life.” What will help her, and and what will help Mr. K., who seems like a textbook case of post-combat PTSD but turns out not to be? Baruch describes, among other things, the emergency of loneliness (invoking Chekhov, another doctor-writer); his own (frightening) experience as a patient; the patient who demanded a hug; and emergency medicine during COVID-19. These stories often end without closure or solutions. The patients are discharged into the world. But if they're lucky, the doctor has listened to their stories as well as treated them.