A Story About A Doctor and His Neighbors

In recent years, some physician authors have wrestled with why doctors might want to think twice before “friending” their patients on Facebook. The usual reasons are to protect the physician’s professional image – that the public might see their weirder, or not-so-polished-as-while-working side and, also, to maintain a certain “distance” – lest doctors become so concerned about their patients’ well-being that they can’t render objective opinions or advice.

Others suggest it’s a good idea for doctors to be socially out there, so to speak. Besides, through most of history, or at least the civilized part in which there have been designated healers, many individuals knew their doctors, who often resided in the same village or region as their patients. People trusted their physicians or didn’t, based on what they knew about their reputations as practitioners and as local denizens.

In the October issue of Harper’s Magazine, T.C. Boyle provides a disturbing portrait of a portly, unkempt doctor who lands a job in small town, presumably in Maine. His unmannerly behavior disturbs some residents. The piece addresses, at least peripherally, some ultra-modern and ancient concerns about relationships between patients and doctors within a community. I don’t wish to give more of this short story away, so I won’t.

I do recommend What Separates Us From the Animals, part of a forthcoming novel, When the Killing’s Done, to my readers. With his frank, absorbing language, Boyle offers insight into human beings as sometimes social creatures who take far-from-perfect care of themselves. Doctor included.

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