Susan S. Turner
When I find a lump in my left breast I am stunned. I probably shouldn't be surprised, but I'm immobilized. It takes me several days before I tell my partner, who has to push me into action. I get the referral from my doctor and schedule a mammogram. The radiology practice fits me into their schedule that same week, but I still have several days to sit with the unknown.
Finally the day of the appointment comes. I wait in the reception area for an hour before the X-ray technician calls my name. As we walk to the exam room, me in my usual long leg braces and aluminum forearm crutches, she is chatty and asks, "How did you get here today?"
"I took the Thruway to Exit 133," I respond. "The office was easy to find."
Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.
I learned that in the first year of medical school. "Nonmaleficence" is the fancy name given to this sentiment, and it's one of the four pillars of modern bioethics. In real life, it's an impossible standard: We harm patients all the time. But the spirit behind the principle is what matters. Do the least possible harm to patients as they go through the medical system. Do only what is necessary. Act only when the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.
As a third-year medical student on rotation in the intensive-care unit (ICU), I admitted David, an elderly man transferred from another hospital because a severe lung infection was making it hard for him to breathe.
The atypical place he wore his beeper
Warranted him a cameo appearance
In an essay I once wrote on pagers
On this spring morning,
He was impeding my progress
As he sauntered across the intersection
In intimate communion with his cell phone
While I waited patiently to turn right
Taking my son to school
At five minutes to seven
I doubt he got to eat breakfast
With his kids.