Monday, September 29, 2008


Feeling; suffering; perception
a) disease: neuropathy
b) a system of treating disease: homeopathy

I wonder why I am a chiropractor, instead of a chiropath? (or a Broadway star for that matter - I always pictured my name in lights...). Why do I practice chiropractic, not chiropathy? Words are great.

Before being admitted entrance into chiropractic college, one must fill out many forms, write some essays, and participate in an interview process where we are asked such revealing questions as: "why do you want to be a chiropractor?" and "give an example of leadership in your past". I guess my proctors were impressed by my Machiavellian rise to the top of the water sport hierarchy at summer camp, running the greatest windsurfing and sailing program ever, and then moved by the disc herniations that would arise while windsurfing in a tragic twist of fate...

I digress. The most challenging question, one that still haunts me to this day, was "explain the difference between empathy and sympathy". See, sometimes when I've confused two things, the mis-association becomes permanently fixed in my brain, so that they are forever neurologically cross-linked. For example, I will never remember if my mother's birthday is on the 17th or the 18th. I've taken to celebrating both days, just in case. Empathy and sympathy - I've spent so long debating the subtle differences between these and getting them mixed up and losing bets with my associates when we remembered this damn interview question, that I've given up. If a situation may call for empathy or sympathy, I'll just give you both. General -pathy all around. I'm pathetic.

Empathy: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. In other words... I have not experienced your pain, but I can try to understand it and relate to it by drawing on other experiences I may have had.

Sympathy: harmony of or agreement in feeling. The harmony of feeling naturally existing between persons of like tastes or opinion or of congenial dispositions. The fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration. In other words... I know what you are feeling, I feel it too.

What does this have to do with getting into chiropractic college? The answer is: I don't know. I suppose they are screening for future chiropractors who will understand the importance of feeling for their patients, even if they can't feel with them. To be honest, the question seems to me to be an ineffective screening tool to ultimately find a caring doc.

So it turns out that it is rare for me to truly sympathize with a patient. I have not experienced what they are experiencing. I do not share their feelings, and I have not felt their pain. I have a particular softness for patients experiencing lumbar disc herniations, since I've had some myself and can really understand the pain and frustration, but overall, sympathy is in short supply here. What I can do is empathize. I can imagine your pain. I can live vicariously through you to understand your pain. This is harder - to not understand your feelings, but to respect them nonetheless.

Oh. I may have just finally gotten it.

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