“The Human Touch” by Jackie Yaris is a story about change motivated experience. It follows a surgeon, Dr. Rosen, who, at the start of the story, separates himself emotionally from the patients he operates on. For instance, the narrator and Rosen encounter an older Mexican woman who is dying of pancreatic cancer; the narrator sees in her a person, while Rosen sees an opportunity to try out a complex and risky surgical procedure. Later, the narrator encounters Rosen’s sister, also dying of cancer, except this time Rosen is a relative of the patient. Due to the change in perspective, he relents, claiming “It’s so different on this side.” Later still, the narrator notices that Dr. Rosen has created a course designed to counter the same lack of empathy that the surgeons had exhibited at the start of the story. The experience of being a potential victim to the same lack of empathy causes Dr. Rosen to reform and reconsider his stance on life.
I think that I can understand the position of Dr. Rosen in this story. I spent most of my life getting bombarded by stories on the television and the internet about random vehicle disasters; car crashes, ships sinking, airline disasters, and usually examined each for their technical elements or waved them off with a choice line or two of gallows humor. My perspective changed when, about five years ago, my mother and younger sister found themselves trapped in a boating collision that killed two of the other passengers and made international headlines. It was painful to witness the trauma and rehabilitation of close family members, and it forced me to reconsider the way that I emotionally approached other major accidents as reported in the news. I’m more empathetic, and take the damages described much more seriously.