The Art of Listening
INSPIRATIONAL, 20 Jan 2020
Dr. Bernard Lown, Professor of Cardiology emeritus at the Harvard School of Public Health and co-recipient with Yevgeniy Chazov of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize as Chairman of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said that he once toured a hospital as a young intern with other interns observing their professor.
At that time, the cure for a heart attack was six weeks of bed rest, an inhuman procedure no longer applied today. It was two weeks before Thanksgiving, the one time each year in the United States when all relatives, including children and grandchildren, get together.
An elderly patient, who had had a heart attack and been in the hospital already for a month, looked at the doctor and asked full of hope,
“Will I be home for Thanksgiving?”
The doctor exclaimed,
“Thanksgiving? You are lucky if you will be home by New Year!”
Suddenly, the patient had another heart attack and died. This shocked Dr. Lown and left a deep impression on him; how devastating a single statement can be.
Many years later, an elderly man who suffered from irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia) came to see Dr. Lown. He asked the man to tell him about his grandchildren. The man looked down. Dr. Lown waited a while and asked again,
“How many grandchildren do you have?”
The man hesitated, and then said, four. Dr. Lown asked him why he had hesitated. It turned out that his son, who had two children, had had a disagreement with the man ten years ago over some business deal and told his father,
“You will never see your grandchildren again for the rest of your life!”
So he was not sure if he should count them or not. A week later, the patient came again to Dr. Lown, beaming, and said, “You cured me!” Dr. Lown asked, “How is that possible, I have not even examined you yet?” The patient said, “But you listened to me!”
It turned out that all he needed was to be able to tell someone about his real hurt and heartache; his arrhythmia had disappeared.
Dr. Lown thought, “Words can be a doctor’s most powerful medicine.”
Dietrich Fischer (1941-2015) from Münsingen, Switzerland, got a Licentiate in Mathematics from the University of Bern 1968 and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from New York University 1976. Fischer was a MacArthur Fellow in International Peace and Security at Princeton University 1986-88, has taught mathematics, computer science, economics and peace studies at various universities, and been a consultant to the United Nations. He was co-founder, with Johan Galtung, of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment in 1993.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Jan 2020.
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