Here’s my first post for the new year and it’s about perspective. I got the idea while griping about the cold weather we’ve had for the past few days. I had to enlist the aid of two of our Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry mascots to keep an eye on the office thermostat.

The thermostat controls the temperature in two offices. I say “controls” with tongue-in-cheek. Note the thermostat setting. Note also that it doesn’t feel like 75 degrees in our offices–take my word for it.

It’s pretty cold outside, but just for perspective, I asked Winston, our main mascot, to find an old article on a pretty tough winter in Iowa, back in 1935 (Knauth, Otto W. “The Winter of 1935-36.” The Annals of Iowa 35 (1960), 288-293. Available at: There were conflicting messages about the copyright status of the article (from no known copyright restrictions to copyright violators will  be shot on sight), which Winston found just by googling.

You know it’s cold when Knauth says “the coal crisis continued with reports of isolated persons burning corn and even furniture to keep warm. At Vinton, police patrolman Jack Bingaman, wearied of repeated thefts of coal, warned that henceforth he would “let the doctor find out” who the thieves were.” A brand new diesel streamliner had to be towed from Clinton to Chicago by a steam locomotive. There were hundreds of cases of frostbite. Animals were frozen standing up. It killed over 20 people by early February.

It doesn’t seem so cold now.

Compare the perspective on health care a surgeon gained by getting so sick herself that she needed to be in the intensive care unit. As a physician trained the way most of us are, she thought the patient care and communication skills doctors learned in training was sufficient. As a patient, she got a different view of the situation, and became a leader in trying to change the culture of medicine. Another perspective-taking exercise is developing a culture of access to all in the academic community, including those with mental disabilities. The question is not “can we?” modify how we educate physicians and faculty–but “will we?”

Empathy in the sense of walking a mile in another person’s shoes is important.

Especially if the walk is likely to result in a bad case of frostbite. Happy New Year!

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