During my years of training to become a hematologist-oncologist, I was privileged to observe senior physicians interact with their patients. I often wondered how these conversations would impact on the way each patient coped with his or her diagnosis, and how they would be remembered. Attending physicians had very different bedside ‘manners’ and it soon became apparent that some felt comfortable with emotional expression while others were reserved and distant. It is as hard to find words of comfort during bad news conversations as it is to devise a treatment plan for acute leukemia. I wondered too about conversations with roommates, assigned by chance, and about the casual chatter with the individual delivering a breakfast tray or taking out the trash. I appreciated the fundamental role of nurses, present at the bedside far longer than anyone else, listening, debriefing and providing counsel, and whose job involved the most basic and representative of all empathic acts: touch.