Close Encounter of the Human Kind

Author

Verghese, Abraham

Genre

Article/Essay

Overview

Raised in Ethiopia in an Indian family, Abraham Verghese emigrated to the U.S. as a young man. He established himself as a noted physician and author, launching the program in the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford University in 2007. Verghese’s bestselling first book, My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story, centers on the challenges of assimilating to life in America while treating AIDS patients in rural Tennessee. In this 2005 New York Times article, Verghese reflects on his encounters with traumatized refugees of Hurricane Katrina. Feeling helpless in the face of their stories of suffering, he finds that all he can say is, "I’m so sorry." This experience leads him to ponder the barriers that exist between the physically and psychically wounded and those who would help. Is “the willingness to be wounded” sometimes all that we have to offer one another?

Full Text*

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Source

The New York Times, Lives, September 18, 2005.

Type

Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.

Themes

Connection and RelationshipDiversity and DifferenceHealth and HealingLove and Compassion

Big Questions

What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?Why is connection important? What does it enable? What does it impede?How do we connect with those who are different from us?How do we learn to have dialogue across difference? What does it look like?Does the world need healing? What would that look like?How do we respond to the suffering of others? How would we like others to respond to our own?How does healing occur? What makes it possible?Should we love the people we serve?What does empathy look like?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What do you make of the word, "armour"?
  2. How does the doctor approach his service?
  3. What changes throughout the story?
  4. How does the doctor describe his patients' feet? How does it create a connection between them?
  5. On your professional work, when do you put on "armour" and when do you allow for a connection?
  6. What makes it possible for us to connect with others? What gets in the way?
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