Unidentified Man #1: I believe in adaptation.

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe in a silver lining.

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that being flexible keeps me going.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe every single person deserves to be acknowledged.

Unidentified Man #3: This, I believe.


Our This I Believe essay today was sent by Dr. Alicia Conill, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. Conill is a native of Cuba and grew up in United States. Her earliest memories are of wanting to be a doctor. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: Dr. Conill's friends and students encouraged her to write an essay for our series. They knew about her belief because she taught it to them. She sees her belief as a gift, one she understands as both the giver and the recipient. Here's Dr. Alicia Conill with her essay for This I Believe.

Dr. ALICIA CONILL (Essay Writer): I believe listening is powerful medicine. Studies have shown it takes a physician about 18 seconds to interrupt a patient after they begin talking.

It was Sunday. I had one last patient to see. I approached her room in a hurry and stood at the doorway. She was an older woman, sitting at the edge of the bed, struggling to put socks on her swollen feet. I crossed the threshold, spoke quickly to the nurse, scanned her chart noting she was in stable condition. I was almost in the clear. I leaned on the bed rail looking down at her. She asked if I could help put on her socks.

Instead, I launched into a monologue that went something like this: How are you feeling? Your sugars and blood pressure were high but they're better today. The nurse mentioned you're anxious to see your son who's visiting you today. It's nice to have family visit from far away. I bet you really look forward to seeing him.

She stopped me with a stern authoritative voice, sit down, doctor. This is my story, not your story. I was surprised and embarrassed. I sat down. I helped her with the socks. She began to tell me that her only son lived around the corner from her. But she had not seen him in five years. She believed that the stress of this contributed greatly to her health problems. After hearing her story and putting on her socks, I asked if there was anything else I could do for her. She shook her head no and smiled. All she wanted me to do was to listen.

Each story is different. Some are detailed, others are vague. Some have a beginning, middle and end. Others wander without a clear conclusion. Some are true, others not, yet all those things do not really matter. What matters to the story teller is that their story is heard without interruption, assumption or judgment. Listening to someone's story costs less than expensive diagnostic testing but is key to healing and diagnosis.

I often thought of what that woman taught me and reminded myself of the importance of stopping, sitting down and truly listening. And not long after, in an unexpected twist, I became the patient with the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at age 31. Now, 20 years later, I sit all the time in a wheelchair. For as long as I could, I continued to see patients from my chair but had to resign when my hands were affected. I still teach med students and other health-care professionals, but now from the perspective of physician and patient. I tell them I believe in the power of listening. I tell them I know first-hand that immeasurable healing takes place within me when someone stops, sits down and listens to my story.

ALLISON: Dr. Alicia Conill with her essay "For This I Believe." Among the listening skills she teaches doctors, sit down to listen, especially to patients lying in bed. Make eye contact, don't look at your notes or the computer, and put your hand on the patient, not on the door handle. Visit npr.org/thisibelieve to see all the essays in our series or contribute one of your own. "For This I Believe" I'm Jay Allison.

HANSEN: Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the book "This I Believe, Volume II." More personal philosophies of remarkable men and women.

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