Consciousness and how it got to be that way

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Malingering and the Deep Mystery of Consciousness

This past Friday I was fortunate to see UCSD neurologist Mark Kritchevsky. It's hard to imagine someone more enthusiastic about medicine or research than this guy. As I decide what to specialize in, it's experiences like these that will add up to nudge me in one direction or the other.

The reason I'm posting is something that the dean of medical education at UCSD (Jess Mandel) said to Dr. Kritchevsky during the discussion that cuts straight to the heart of a) the deep problem of consciousness and b) straight to the way physicians treat and diagnose their patients. In the context of patients who present with acute anterograde amnesia (they can't form new memories, then the condition resolves itself) Dean Mandel recounted working with a neurologist whose favorite diagnosis was malingering. Every time someone came in with a strange set of symptoms, this particular neurologist thought they were faking. Dean Mandel's (unstated at the time) question was: if this is your go-to diagnosis, then why the heck would you go into neurology?

This also highlights something I recently heard from the neurologist V.S. Ramachandran (who I was fortunate to see earlier in the week as well), which is that if you see a patient and you dismiss their complaint as crazy - it's more likely that you as the physician are just not smart enough to figure out what's going on.

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