The Empathy Exams: Essays
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
From personal loss to phantom diseases, The Empathy Exams is a bold and brilliant collection, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize
A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Essay Collection of Spring 2014
Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison's visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about each other? How can we feel another's pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other? By confronting pain―real and imagined, her own and others'―Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory―from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration―in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.
on the detergent sheets, lifting your shirt for one more cardiac resident, one more stranger, letting him attach his clips to the line of hooks under your breast, letting him print out your heart, once more, to see if its rhythm has calmed. It all returns to this: you want him close to your damage. You want humility and presumption and whatever lies between, you want that too. You’re tired of begging for it. You’re tired of grading him on how well he gives it. You want to learn how to stop
tonight. She can still understand herself outside the context of this disease: someone who does ordinary things, looks forward to the events of an ordinary life. Only a few minutes ago, Rita was telling me these are the only three days of the year when she doesn’t feel totally alone. I wonder if Kendra is following this same path—just lagging a few years behind—toward an era when she’ll live full-time in the realm of illness. She says she’s been finding it harder and harder to leave her house.
is this mass eliciting of feeling? If it causes pleasure, isn’t there something to respect in that—or do we plead false consciousness and argue otherwise? Do we insist that better artwork can elicit a better kind of feeling—more expansive, supple, ethical? Even melodrama can carry someone across the gulf between his life and the lives of others. A terrible TV movie about addiction can still make someone feel for the addict—no matter how general this addict, how archetypal or paradigmatic, no
looks at her husband when she talks. She wants his confirmation in her mourning. Todd wants to know if his son called out for him in the woods. This was 1993. The Moores are still out there today, somewhere—still cooking dinner and eating it, clearing the table, falling asleep and dreaming. Probably in some of their dreams their son is still alive. They drive to work and drive home and watch comedies and laugh, or don’t, and their son—their son is still in second grade. Steve, Michael, and
cleansing cannot happen without some loss: cleaned out the rot, left me mouthfull of love. Like Stevens and his thirteen blackbirds, we see pain from every angle; no single posture of suffering is allowed any measure of perceptual tyranny. We can’t see suffering one way; we have to look at it from thirteen directions and that is only the beginning—then we are called to follow this figure striding out of the light. We follow this figure into contradiction, into a confession that wounds are