We’re reading The Voyage of Dr. Dolittle with our son and among the countless lessons is this clinical pearl, when the Doctor’s apprentice asks the wise parrot: “Do you think I would ever be able to learn the language of the animals?” Polynesia, the parrot, answers:

“… are you a good noticer? Do you notice things well? I mean, for instance, supposing you saw two cock starlings on an apple tree, and you only took one good look at them, would you be able to tell one from the other if you saw them again on the next day?… that is what you call powers of observation — noticing the small things about birds and animals: the way they walk and move their heads and flip their wings; the way they sniff the air and twitch their whiskers and wiggle their tails … lots of the animals hardly talk at all with their tongues; they use their breath or their tails or their feet instead.”

This is the best description I’ve seen about really paying attention to your patients (and children and friends…).