Dr. Cohen is professor and section chief of neurology, Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, New Hampshire; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
My usual day as a neurologist is spent trying to support patients who have horrible diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease). These patients face a diagnosis that promises no hope, no cure, and inevitable death. As I tell my students and residents, I feel that the best physicians are the individuals who can take on and experience their patients' feelings, yet doing so often means bearing a weighty emotional burden. My art is a way for me to cope with all the sadness and fear I take on each day.
In my role as a teacher, I try to stress to my students and residents that our patients (and ourselves) are more than the simple exterior that others readily see. We all are the product of numerous experiences that have made us who we are. This painting represents the layers that form from the various experiences that become incorporated into our being. These experiences are not always clearly defined or pleasing to us or others. When an individual's smooth exterior is scratched or touched, we see, feel, and hear experiences we did not expect. By deeply sympathizing with patients' feelings, we can begin to chip away at the layers that guard their hidden experiences, and we can sometimes share the burden they face.