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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May 2008

A Certain Anesthesia

Arthur Ginsberg

Exhaustion sets in by day’s end
when the old Pakistani woman
hobbles into my office.
Raccoon eyes underscore the pain
she feels in her left leg. More cavalier
than a Hippocratic disciple should be,
I pull up her djellaba* to expose
the dark, tumescent flesh of her calf
monogrammed by serpiginous veins.
I am too aggressive with the needles
that search for the source
of the white-hot poker lancinating
from ankle to groin, muscular infidelity.

She is stoic,
so well schooled in cruelty
that even I pretend not to see
the slight jiggle of her jaw, enough
to tell me I have crossed the border
of disrespect. Apocryphal as it may be,

this is what I have to give
at the end of the day, a certain anesthesia
for the provenance of pain, how
she stands after it is all over,
rearranges her covering, and leaves me
speechless with the tent of her hands.

*pronounced je-lab’: A long, hooded garment with full sleeves, worn especially in Muslim countries.

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Mothers and Meaning

John G. Scott

“Dr. Scott, this is Dr. Font.” The call came from my mother’s cardiologist as I was about to see my first patient of the morning. “Your mother is worse. You’d better come as soon as you can. I don’t think she’ll survive the day.” Those blunt words shattered my denial: I had convinced myself that it was possible to fix the cumulative, lifelong damage wreaked on my mother’s heart by her atrial septal defect, a congenital condition.

I thought back to the time, weeks earlier, when I’d gone to visit my parents. The vibrant, life-loving, intellectually engaged woman I knew so well was beaten down by her illness. Pain clouded her eyes and lined her face. I could see the bony outlines of her hips underneath her clothes.

I had sat up with her all night, feeling her racing pulse and holding her hand as she struggled to master her terror. Eyes closed, she repeated over and over, “Lord, give me strength. Lord, give me strength. Lord, give me strength.” By morning, I felt exhausted–and ashamed to realize that my 84-year-old father had been doing this for weeks. My medical objectivity vanished: all that mattered was to

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My War Story

Marc Tumerman

My practice is in a small rural Wisconsin town just down the road from a large military base. I see soldiers pretty regularly these days; they stay here for several weeks of pre-deployment training before shipping off to Iraq. They come from all over the country–men and women of various ages, some single, some married and with families. Their health-care needs aren’t too different from those of my civilian patients: maternity care, chronic illness management and the usual scrapes and bruises. I like having them on my schedule; their Boston accents and Georgia drawls make a pleasant change from my neighbors’ familiar, made-for-radio Midwestern monotone.

I don’t dwell much on what these soldiers do for a living. I do my best to take care of their needs and move on to the next patient. Once in a while, though, I run into one who sticks in my head at night as I lie in bed trying to make sense of the day.

Captain America is one of these patients. Sitting on my exam table, this 29-year-old man looks like a cross between G.I. Joe and the Terminator, his well-sculpted V-frame a walking advertisement for the U.S military.

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Redesigning the practice of medicine

Pamela Mitchell

what if we went slowly thoughtfullyabout the business of healing
what if I bowedto you and you to mebefore we touched aching bodies
what if we saidout loudthisis sacred workmight I be madeworthy
what if I blessed your handsand you minebefore we began
repairingdeliveringdressinglistening to
broken bodieshungry souls

would we then returnto the placewhere so long agowe felt called
where we knew for sure thatwe did indeedhave hearts
hearts that beat confidentlyfullof ambition
hearts that were courageousenough to break
againand againand again
hearts that were not afraidto weep

at the sheer beauty offulminating organ
the raw painof splintered fracture
the howling lossof bodily movement

what if we were unafraid to weepat the joyof newborns crowning
or the resurrectionof hearts expired

what if we were unafraidto sayI do not know the answer
and welcomed Humilityinto our practice
what if we sat down with Hersaid a blessing
and quietly contemplated
the Mystery

About the poet:

A nurse for thirty years, Pam Mitchell RN MFA currently enjoys nursing in mental health. She was anthologized in Intensive Care (Cortney Davis

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