fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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Sharing personal experiences of giving and receiving health care

I Can’t See Pictures in My Head

Editor’s Note: This piece was a finalist in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

Visual imagination is like a superpower or a sixth sense: We take it for granted. On demand, we conjure up images of those we hold most dear: family, friends, our beloved pets. We envision people, places and things that we’d like to experience in the future. We revisit cherished memories simply by picturing them, essentially reliving them, all in our mind’s eye.

That is, unless you have aphantasia—like me.

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The Dining-Room Caper

After fifteen years as a physical therapist in the long-term care industry, I’d vowed never again to get overly attached to a resident. Although I accepted my patients’ inevitable physical and cognitive declines, the deaths of those I had cherished took too much of an emotional toll: It felt like losing a grandparent, repeatedly.

Then William entered our facility.

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The Difference

My patients do not speak. Or rather, my patients do not speak using words. Instead, they have taught me the art of body language—of noises, expressions and postures.

I read the movement of ears, the way pupils dilate or constrict. Watch for the tremors, for the hunch of a spine, for the described bows or stretches that could indicate abdominal spasm. Search for the hint of a leg being favored, for the inaudible signs of pain. Wait for tongues darting over lips. Offer food that may be sniffed at or turned away from. I’ve learned to respond to fear with gentleness, to preempt the sharpness of tooth or claw with slow movements.

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More Voices

Every month readers tell their stories — in 40 to 400 words — on a different healthcare theme.

Regrets/No Regrets - More Voices
Photo Credit: Sara Kohrt
Regrets/No Regrets

June 2024

At the Pharmacy - More Voices
Photo Credit: Sara Kohrt
At the Pharmacy

May 2024

Photo Credit: Sara Kohrt

April 2024

New Voices

Stories by those whose faces and perspectives are underrepresented in media and in the health professions.

Small but Mighty

Editor’s Note: This piece was awarded an honorable mention in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

I was born with what was described as a “mild” case of achondroplasia, a genetic condition that affects bone growth and causes short stature.

The average height of an adult female with achondroplasia is 4 feet 1 inch; I am 4 feet 5 inches tall. I do not have some of the “characteristic” facial features such as a prominent forehead or flattened nasal bridge. The average person remains unaware of my condition until I stand up.

This condition does not run in my family.

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When Is the Right Time?

Stephanie passed away this morning.

In an email from her husband, Frank, I learned that I’d lost my dear friend of two decades.

Stephanie was only forty-two. An administrator at a local bank, she was also a devoted wife and the loving mother of three daughters.

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A Daughter of Vietnamese Refugees

Editor’s Note: This piece was a finalist in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

I am a daughter of Vietnamese refugees.

I wear my identity so proudly that I often reflexively lead with this when, as a medical student, I’m introduced to colleagues, professors and supervisors. It is my response when asked, “How will you contribute to diversity?”

I feel honored to be different. In fact, when I meet patients who have never encountered a Vietnamese American, and if it feels safe to do so, I happily pronounce my last name in my native tongue.

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Often Described As

the most terrible pain known to man,
trigeminal neuralgia
ricochets around my face, pulsing
electric-shocks. My doctor advises

cutting the nerve in my cheek, the only hope
of stopping the torture. He mentions
some patients consider
suicide. My husband has just revealed

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In early morning appointments,
the doctor’s coat reeks of cigarettes
as he moves closer,
says “Scoot down,”
inserts the probe.

They want me to want my eggs
in case the treatment takes them—
to hold fast to the dream of a child
with my dimples and dark eyes.

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The Sturgeon

Kind eyes, and a fragile body like a reed
Barely just a presence on the room, as if almost fading
Already into the twilight

Under gentle, careful hands
His body unveils its story with its familiar tells.
The slender wrists, childlike, beneath pitted skin.
Deeply scooped recess above collarbones.
A subtle, solid wedge of liver,
Looming ominously below ribcage.

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