"A Gentle and Humane Temper": Humility in Medicine

Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 54 (2):206-216 (2011)
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Abstract

In his story entitled "Toenails," the surgeon Richard Selzer (1982) warns readers that total immersion in medicine is wrongheaded. Rather, to ensure their own health, doctors should discover other passions that permit them periodically to disconnect from medical practice. Selzer's surgeon character devotes his Wednesday afternoons to the public library, where he joins "a subculture of elderly men and women who gather … to read or sleep beneath the world's newspapers" (p. 69). Among these often eccentric personages is Neckerchief, an arthritic man in his 80s who suffers from severe foot pain. His toenails, never trimmed because of his inability to reach them, have grown so long that they curve beneath his toes and ..

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