Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 05/23/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/23/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Abraham Verghese

WRITING TO EASE THE PAIN

"WHEN I WENT INTO INFECTIOUS diseases after becoming an internist, it was because it offered the promise of a cure," says Abraham Verghese, 38. "In the early '80s, infectious disease was the one discipline where a cure was common. Today I am a doctor who is unable to cure."

Born in Ethiopia, where his expatriate Indian parents had come to teach, Verghese studied medicine in Madras, India, before moving to the United States in 1980. He then spent three years completing his residency at Johnson City's East Tennessee State University. After additional training at Boston City Hospital, Verghese returned to the tranquil Appalachian town in 1985, never expecting to be confronted with an epidemic. "You're suddenly dealing with people your own age whose plight makes you reflect on your ideas about sex, about social issues and, of course, about your own mortality," he says. "Almost every emotion is magnified and brought into sharp relief with AIDS."

Since 1991, Verghese has lived with his wife, Rajani, and two sons, Steven, 8, and Jacob, 6, in El Paso, where he is chief of infectious diseases at Texas Tech University. In writing, he says he discovered, "a key to some of my frustrations at work. I can't reverse death, I can't get into a patient's mind and think his thoughts," says Verghese. "With writing, the boundaries are virtually limitless."

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