Friday, September 30, 2005


I can't deal with grief. I just don't know how. There are only two occasions in my life when I saw very profound grief. Both occasions involved women, each has just lost a child. The image of a young woman sobbing on her floor will be etched into my mind for years to come.

When facing grief, poetry and philosophy have no place. Grief is solid and raw and massive.

And please, never say "it was meant to be" or "it was all for the best." Only a person who has never lost anyone he/she loved would sweep another person's grief under the carpet with such useless statements.

Euripides and Flaubert and Proust were right: that happiness always never has anything to do with the happy person's objective worthiness. The same is true for sadness. The person you see suffering neither deserved or planned for her loss.

C. S. Lewis said, "No one told me that grief feels so much life fear."

Joan Didion said, "Grief is a dark place where none of us know."

They were right. With grief, put away your clever words. Light a candle for the sufferer in a church, help her with her chores, put a pillow under her head. And never say, "I know what you're going through." Because you don't.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My Patch Adam Moment

I have been doing interpretation for an Asian clinic. Today, I ran into a patient and her little boy on the T. The kid pointed at me and shouted (in a great Bostonian accent),

"Dat's my doctah!"

This is the first time that anyone has called me a "doctor." Disclaimer: I'm a merely a second year med student - AKA unpaid scutt monkey.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


I've been thinking a lot about grace. To me, grace is when someone gives you the gift of kindness, but you did nothing to earn it.

A story about grace:

I met a patient who suffered from schizophrenia. She told me that when she was the sickest, she didn't even recognize her parents and her closest friends. She lashed out at people. She was a mess.

After being in treatment for two years, she returned to the neighborhood in which she grew up. She had thought that people would be terrified of her. She would be forever labelled as the "crazy" person. To her surprise, her neighbors organized a welcome home dinner for her. People hugged her with tears in their eyes. They were so happy to have their friend back.

She said, "Alison, they had so much grace. And I didn't have to do anything to earn it."

Monday, September 05, 2005

"See a little bit of God in everyone you meet."

While reading neuroanatomy in Starbucks on Newbury Street, a man sat next to me asked if I were a medical student.

"Well, I've been in medicine for forty-years," he said.

We started talking about being in medicine and being uncertain: what to do when a patient comes to you and you do not have an answer for him/her, what happens if you start questioning your own commitment to medicine.

Half way through the conversation, I told him, "It scares me that I'll be responsible for someone else' life in 11 months."

He said, "You'll be alright. My father was a rabbi, and he always said that there is a little bit of God in every human being. It's your job to see that in a person. If you'll remember to do this, you'll be a good doctor."

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Private sorrow

Whenever I see a photo like this, I wonder if the reporter asked the subjects for permission. Did this women realize that her moment of private, intense sorrow will show up on the front cover of the most circulated newspaper in the world? Does she want this to happen? In some ways, all of reporting is paparazi - you snap a picture of a person when he/she is at her worst, and you publish it for the shock value. Our world is so transparent that you can no longer mourn and grieve in privacy.