Empathy: Lost or Found in Medical Education?

Sonal Singh, MD

In This Article

An Intensive Care Unit in Kathmandu, Nepal

I sat outside the doors of an intensive care unit (ICU) of a tertiary care center in Kathmandu, Nepal, on a cold morning. My relatives had invited me, a resident-physician from the United States, to assist in taking care of their loved one. I noticed an elderly woman crying nearby. Her son had died on his way to the hospital. The exact circumstances surrounding his death were unknown, but he was only 17 years old. She was crying because she could not afford to pay for his funeral. People had gathered around her, and someone proposed to hire a taxi to take the body to the funeral pyre. The taxi would cost approximately US $25. Everyone from the crowd contributed spontaneously, but the collected money fell short of the required sum. I tried to avoid the mother's tearful eyes, but I caught a glimpse of the body of her dead son. My lavish lunch for later seemed out of place, and I gave the remaining sum. As the driver hauled the crying mother and the corpse away, I was reminded that these incidents were a part of everyday life in this part of the world. Plagued by decades of poverty and a recent political insurgency, the poor spend all of their savings trying to access high-priced medical care for their loved ones, including those who have died, often to no avail.


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