How a "Nothingoma" Can Bring Joy to a Physician


Scott Abramson, MD

Perm J 2018;22:18-039 [Full Citation]
E-pub: 06/11/2018

A version of this article has been previously published in the March 2018 edition of the Kaiser Permanente Greater Southern Alameda Area (GSAA) Physician Health and Wellness Newsletter.

Joanne was a 38-year-old housewife and mother of 4: 2 teens and twin 10-year-old girls. She was referred to me in the neurology clinic because a routine brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan showed a minor abnormality. Joanne’s mother had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when Joanne was 13.

During our visit, I talked with Joanne and examined her. Everything was perfectly fine. I reviewed the MRI. It clearly showed an incidental, harmless finding, a "nothingoma."

As I reassured her and was making my exit, Joanne grasped my hand between hers.

"Oh, Doctor," she tearfully exclaimed, "thank you so much. I was so worried. I am so grateful to you. God bless you, Doctor."

To be honest, I was embarrassed by this effusive praise. All I did was review a routine MRI. "Joanne," I was about to say, "No problem. It was nothing." But then I realized:

To Joanne this was SOMETHING.

To Joanne, this was a BIG SOMETHING.

And this should have been, to me, a SOMETHING.

This should have been, to me, a BIG SOMETHING.

I should have cherished that moment as much as she.

I saw a bumper sticker a while ago. It read: “It’s amazing how you can affect someone’s life so deeply, and never appreciate it.”

I will confess. For much of my career, in this situation, I would have been in the category of "never appreciate it." But I am now 70 years old. I have been a physician for 38 of those years, more than half my life. I now understand that, for Joanne, our encounter was a life-affirming blessing. And I now understand that, for me, our encounter was just as much—such a blessing.

To all my physician and healer colleagues, let me ask you: How many of us are in the category of “never appreciate it”? How many of us ignore the powerful beauty of our everyday, "nothingoma" blessings?

Disclosure Statement

The author(s) have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

How to Cite this Article

Abramson S. How a “nothingoma” can bring joy to a physician. Perm J 2018;22:18-039. DOI:

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