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Editor's Comments on 'Star-gazing'

 , September 09, 2016

This essay is a hopeful testament to the potential of health care to be a moral beacon in a world rife with inequities. In it South African medical student Nabeela Kajee draws astute connections between the health care system in the United States and that of her home country. Both South Africa and the USA have pasts and presents scarred by racial oppression that undermines the possibilities of their diverse societies. What would it look like to embody social justice? How might a body be treated justly in such societies?

Kajee offers an answer in her poignant description of an encounter with an elderly patient who does not speak English. Her ability to connect with him using a telephonic interpreter is a metaphorical invitation for us to listen to each other more, via whatever means necessary. By listening to her patient tell his story in his own words and in his own language Kajee was able to understand his story. In this sort of authentic listening she achieved two positive therapeutic outcomes – better patient care because of an accurate and complete history, and also the therapeutic effect of being heard. This was not lost on her patient, who thanked her for seeing him as a whole person with a story worth hearing.

In this tumultuous historical moment marked by sound bites from pundits talking over each other, vicious political turf wars, and increasingly visible violence throughout our societies, we would do well to be quiet and listen more. As health care providers we can start in the clinics and hospitals where we work, but Kajee beckons us to take our open ears beyond the walls of our workplaces, indeed, beyond the borders of our countries, as she herself did in her international rotation.

Irène Mathieu