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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July 2008

First Patient

It was a quiet knock on my door that morning. So quiet, in fact, that I wondered if I was dreaming. Maybe if I went back to sleep it would go away.

Nope. There it was again: soft but persistent. This time I knew that it really was a knock, and it really was on the front door of my one-room cabin. What I didn’t know was that I’d be hearing that knock for the rest of my life.

I got up, tired and rumpled, and pulled open the door. A young woman I’d never seen before stood there, barefoot and wearing the simple white linen dress of the campesina (as a woman who works the land is called in rural Paraguay)She was probably no more than sixteen, but in her eyes was the look of a mother, and something else: distress. In her arms she held an infant.

Xe memby o-hasy (my baby’s sick),” she said in her native Guarani.

I didn’t understand a word, but I knew it wasn’t good. I looked at her baby–face gray, eyes open, too sick to cry. What was I supposed to do?

Back then, I wasn’t a doctor. Heck, I hadn’t even taken » Continue Reading.

First Patient Read More »


Rachel Hadas

One: secretarial computer screen:
appointments, cancellations. Two: machine

we’re here for, registering your heart’s each pump
with grainy images that throb and jump

in sync with the obscure interior.
Three: anticlimactic VCR

screen, a tiny, garish old cartoon
squawking and jerking in the darkened room.

Past these respective renderings of vision
we move next door. Here the examination

is palpable, is stethoscope to chest:
breath in, out, raise your arms, stand, squat, and rest.

I’m sitting, staring vaguely at the sky–
from the ninth floor, a pale blue vacancy.

What is a window but another frame
or screen through which to ponder–is it time

or space that peels this dull facade to show
the poverty of what we really know

despite the wealth of data we can see
via machines that pierce opacity?

Well, no more screens for one more year or two
Thank you and goodbye. It’s time to go.

About the poet: 

Rachel Hadas is board of governors professor of English, Newark campus, Rutgers University. The latest of her many books of poems is The River of Forgetfulness (David Robert, 2006); Classics (WordTech Communications), a volume of selected prose, was published in 2007. Her website is

Echocardiography Read More »

Our Town (Chinese Spoken)

By the time Mrs. Zhang came to see me, her headache, left-sided weakness and facial numbness were two weeks old. Like many Chinese immigrants in this country, she’d hesitated to seek medical care because of language and cultural barriers and her apprehensiveness about Western medicine. In fact, she hadn’t seen a physician in the ten years since she and her husband had come to America. Only after a friend told her about me, the sole Chinese primary-care physician in a small Pennsylvania town, did she and her husband come to see me.

Mr. and Mrs. Zhang struck me as a typical older Chinese couple. With smiles on their faces, they bowed repeatedly to everyone in my office.

Our Town (Chinese Spoken) Read More »

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