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But in the exam room, Charon doesn't do much talking at all these days. "I'll start an appointment with a new patient by saying something like 'I need to learn a lot about your body, your health, and your life. Please share with me what you think I need to know.'" Then she sits with her hands in her lap—no notes, no typing—and lets the patient tell her story.

The details your physician should know—but might not think to ask.

Sayantani Dasgupta, MD, who teaches narrative medicine at Columbia University, says the key to sharing your health history is thinking of it as a story:

Choose the turning points that you want to highlight—the ups and downs you've experienced over time. Who are the main characters? A supportive partner? An unsupportive boss?

Mention the dramatic tensions. You might be concerned about meeting work deadlines, or caring for a sick parent. These details will help your doctor treat your illness in the context of your life. Finally, spill your fears. Maybe your mother died of a brain tumor and you're afraid you will, too. Your worries offer insight into your hesitancies and motivations.

How to Listen to Your Body

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