The Mental Status Exam

Campo, Rafael

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Sonnet

Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler
  • Date of entry: Aug-15-2005


One of Campo's projects has been to interrogate the methods used by physicians to understand patients. These methods can be expertly employed to hone in on certain diseases and pathologies, but can also come with a price, most notably a blindness to that patient's experience and personhood. Campo's message might be, It's hard to see the big picture through a microscope.

In this sonnet, he turns to the mental status exam. The inadequacy of a dualist perspective of mind and brain and the reductionism of simple interpretations are the starting point. Campo then turns to several questions from the Feinstein mental status exam (remembering three objects, interpreting a phrase, etc.). Ever attuned to the life of being a physician, Campo has captured the embarrassed way in which many of the (very simple) questions are asked ("Just two more silly questions").

He does grant the divergence of mental experience, with the reminder that the mind is "timeless, dizzy, unscrupulous" as well as "sometimes only dimly lit," and acknowledges the limits of the mental status exam, one in which a certain type of memory is tested (three objects) but not another (that the patient might sing).

Primary Source



Duke Univ. Press

Place Published

Durham, N.C.