L. C. Álvaro Neurosciences and History 2014;2(1):15-25
Type of article: ORIGINAL
L.C. Álvaro Department of Neurology, Hospital Universitario de Basurto, Bilbao; Department of Neuroscience, UPV/EHU, Spain.
Introduction and objectives. Dr Axel Munthe specialised in what he called nervous diseases. Trained in prestigious settings in Paris, under Claude Bernard, Pasteur, and Charcot, he moved in intellectual circles (Henry James, Maupassant) and the highest levels of society. With his keen critical eye and boundless generosity toward the less fortunate, his character and doings exemplified model values that we should adopt in current practice. Our objective is to identify these values in his autobiography The Story of San Michele and analyse them alongside the neurological diseases he describes.
Results. We have identified facing reality and providing treatment (sedation) to patients facing imminent death; resilience; unlimited capacity for inspiring confidence and offering solace; simplicity and accessibility; disregard for material wealth; acceptance of homosexuality; and empathy for women. His curiosity and critical views led to friction and ruptures with his teachers, but his contributions in certain areas surpassed theirs. He did sterling work in hysteria, hypnosis (restricted to selected indications), general paresis, pain, signs of visual hallucinations, and alcoholism/substance abuse.
Conclusion. A distinguished figure in the medical and intellectual spheres, Munthe found that his critical eye and opposition to abuse of power by scientists created obstacles that he was nonetheless able to overcome. He demonstrated empathy for the marginalised people of his time. Munthe taught others to comfort and treat patients in the agony of death, was able to gain people’s trust, and valued his clinical work above material wealth. His values, applied to the doctor-patient relationship, are as relevant as ever.
Axel Munthe, neurology, disease, values
Neurosciences and History 2014;2(1):15-25
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