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About More Voices

Every month More Voices invites readers to contribute short nonfiction prose pieces of 40 to 400 words on a healthcare theme.

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Getting the News

Wake-Up Call


After my father died, I made sure I spoke with my mother every day. Dad's death was sudden, if not entirely surprising, and there were a lot of logistical details to sort out. Mom, at 71, was living alone for the first time in her life. She wasn't sleeping well. She was anxious. She didn't understand all the paperwork that flooded into the house. I wasn't surprised that she forgot things; she was overwhelmed with grief. And she'd never been good with technology; when she decided the phones in the house weren't working and replaced them for the third time in a year, we just rolled our eyes. I brushed off suggestions from my brother that she might actually have a problem with her memory. Of course not. She's just tired, anxious and grief-stricken.

Perspective

 
“Your ovaries never developed.”

I am trying—and failing—to wrap my mind around those four words, to grasp the weight of their meaning, but every time I try to speak or swallow, the sharpness of the word “never” lodges in my throat. Never, meaning never counting the number of fingers on an ultrasound, never feeling the flutter of little toes against your abdomen, never arguing about whether you prefer the name Sophie or Sophia, never wondering if your baby girl will recognize your voice when you get to hold her for the first time.

Before Ultrasound


Mary looks not too bad for having a two-week-old baby only now getting good at nursing. He looks content. His weight is not quite where I would like to see it, but not worrisome.

Lifted in my hands, his tone is great, his gaze intensely locks on mine. Put back down, his arms and legs flail enthusiastically. Cheeks are chubby, soft skin is pink. He passes the gestalt test – no worrisome sense that something is not quite right.

The Phone Call

“Dr. Eisenberg, line 6, Dr. B,” I hear over the office intercom. What? The chairman calling me?

And in that split second, as I braced for impact, my life flashed before my eyes. What did I do? My mind could only fathom the worst.

Riñones al Jerez

 

“You do not need an MRI,” I told my father emphatically as he stood in my living room, explaining to me that his beloved doctor had ordered this for his low back pain. He was hoping for a quick fix before meeting his brother in Spain. “You need physical therapy.”

I dislike playing doctor to my family, not trusting myself to dissociate emotion from evidence, but this was just too much. Sure, his back hurt him sometimes, but there was nothing to suggest anything dangerous going on, nothing an intervention would fix. Nothing but the dreadful aches and pains of growing old.

Knowing When to Let Go

 
I will never forget being told that my mother's treatment options were pretty much over. A COPD/atrial fibrillation sufferer, she had been intubated and spent time in the ICU, then rehab and then home for a few days. She was very vehement about not wanting to spend life on a ventilator. And she documented this in a living will.

A Call In The Night

 
I married him in-between tours of Vietnam as a Navy junior officer, and even though we divorced after eight years, we stayed in touch and saw each other over the years.

When he emailed two years ago to say he'd been diagnosed with esophogeal cancer, I was concerned. But after radiation and an operation he wrote that his first two scans were good, and the doctors were hopeful. He was always a strong man and had been healthy, so I relaxed my fear somewhat.
 
When I wrote him a few months later, his reply was strange. He just said, "A lot is going on here," and didn't sign the note. He still worked as a lawyer, so I thought he was doing well and busy again. But no followup note came.
 

It Changed My Life Forever

 
Today is the first "back to work" day of the new year. Twenty-six years ago today, I got my HIV positive diagnosis. I'd had my blood tested prior to a vacation in Palm Springs, and my first appointment of the year was with my physician. He didn't hem or haw or mince words--told me straight out. I was stunned but stoic. In my heart, I had expected it. I had been a sexually active gay man in New York in the 1970s and 80s; more than a dozen close friends were dead from AIDS.
 

Haunting Diagnosis

The day began like every other summer day. My eight-year-old son and six-year-old daughter ate their cereal, watched Sesame Street, and played—him with his Star Wars figures and her with her Barbies. After lunch, they gathered a few favorite books and toys to entertain them while they waited in the pediatrician’s office for their annual physicals.

Normalcy ended when the physician announced: “Your daughter has a severe curvature of the spine. She needs to see a doctor who specializes in scoliosis.”

The Fighter

This was the third time he coded. Dean had been in the ICU for over a week without any visitors, telephone calls, flowers or balloons. He came in after an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest which he survived and subsequently had another arrest halfway through his stay here. He sure was a fighter.

With special help from the ICU team, we found a contact number for his mother after doing some research on the internet. I was tasked to call her and inform her he was in the hospital.