Name your demon


I heard a comic declare, “no good story ever began with the phrase I was eating a salad.”

My story begins in the bathroom, not at the dinner table.

I was lounging in a hot bath and catching up on my reading, when I uncovered a nugget in a medical journal: the Little White Paper.

The Little White Paper is the story of doctor-patient communication.

The patient—always described as a lady—will open her purse, extract a tiny piece of paper, unfold it, and produce a long list of questions for the doctor.

She then ticks off each item while the doctor in the story listens and addresses each question soberly.

The Little White Paper is referred to as La maladie du petite papier (the little paper disease), which arises when “an exhaustive list of purported ailments is carried around by a neurotic patient,” writes Suzanne Koven, MD, in the December 11 (2014) issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Koven says that, although doctors find La maladie du petite papier annoying, “naming our demons and saying their names aloud helps make them less frightening.”

And simply paying attention to the questions and complaints offers patients comfort.

Sometimes, Koven writes, “a lady just needs someone to listen.”

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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