Truth be told, we doctors don’t cure very many people. While we often take credit for the healing powers given to our bodies by nature, many maladies will get better with tincture of time, while others will progress to worse or fatal outcomes despite our best efforts. What a physician can do in almost all instances is help relieve pain, decrease anxiety, offer comfort and give some measure of hope. These skills are what many have described as the art of medicine. Sadly, as our scientific capabilities are increasing, I see many colleagues and most students losing the skills of the art of touching, communicating, and empathy that for centuries was the cornerstone (and at times, the only skill) of our profession. Therefore, the following poem should be part of every medical school’s curriculum.
The Laying On of Hands
Priests offered it in weekly benediction to bless
after chants and motets, in Eucharist
or Mass, to magnify a union or heal
the sick. Doves were sometimes released.
Lovers do it too. The caress – careless or casual.
The home from work, the comfort me, or the moment
when hands become all scent and skin; the arch of the wrist,
the smooth palm and pure white fingernail tip.
So doctors learned it, palpated sick limbs, gauged temperatures,
pulses; probed chests, abdomens and necks to fathom symptoms,
interrogate signs. But now machines seek better, deeper,
further, filling the walls with images, bright and cold.