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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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November 2008

Thanksgiving Reflections

Pulse Writers and Editors

Editor’s Note: This Thanksgiving tugs hard at the emotions. While an economic gale roils the world, our freshly chosen captain stands on deck, pointing out a new direction for our battered ship of state. At the same time, each of us has personal joys and sorrows to contemplate. We asked Pulse’s writers and editors to take a moment to share their reflections.

This year, I am thankful for my four quirky little grandsons, my three loving children and my beloved husband of almost forty years. I am especially thankful that the country we share has a chance to find its way again and to call all of us, young and old, toward a future that can still be bright and full of promise. –Johanna Shapiro

I’m thankful for my daughter, and for how she kicks and growls in delight when I enter her room at 6 a.m. –Joanne Wilkinson

As one who came of political age in the 1960s, I remember as only a young man can the losses of JFK, RFK and MLK. As an older man, I’m all too aware of the fragility of any single human life. But I will be grateful this Thanksgiving for » Continue Reading.

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Joanne Wilkinson

My patient’s beagle is very quiet. He lies next to the brown leather living-room chair she used to sit in when I would come to see her at home. His nose is down on his paws, and his round eyes look up at me, up at the nurses, the home health aides, the family members who go back and forth between here and the back bedroom. He is very alert, but silent. He stays perfectly still.

My patient’s sons want to know things. How much longer will it be, will she be in pain, what will the end be like, will she be conscious? Should they take the rest of the week off from work, should they call the son in California and ask him to come? Yes, I tell them. Bring the relatives from far away, call in sick to work, get the minister, the undertaker, the cousin with the good voice who wants to sing at the service. It won’t be long. 

They pace back and forth in the kitchen, stirring the air with their movement. Their footsteps shake the house’s foundations. Would it have been different, they ask, if we’d caught it earlier, if she’d

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little black boy

Jimmy Moss

little black boy
sit down.
fold your hands into your lap
and put your lap into order
now cry me a little song.
sing me a little note about me 
caring about what you care about,
then dream me a little dream.
and when your tears turn into
oases and exposed rivers
stand up
and pour me a little cup
fill it with every broken promise
and the unfulfilled moments of
belated birthdays and first days
of the school year when your
clothes were unkempt…then
tell me a little secret
about how–you wish your father
bothered enough to be a father 
or fathered another version of you,
so that you could have a friend
and then
write me a little poem.
make me a little rhyme about
the places you lived and the schools
you’ve attended
the teachers you’ve impressed
and the classmates
you’ve offended…by simply
being alittle black boy
who could read and speak well
and vividly express himself,
find clean shirts amongst the dirty ones
and dress himself
long enough
to cover up his little pain
and then bring me a little more
of whatever it is that you have
bundled up in your little hand,

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My Patient, My Friend

Larry Zaroff

Death is not always the same. Quantity, fixed: one per patient. Quality, variable.

Doctors see many deaths, of different kinds. This is true of any doctor, whether or not he or she is a surgeon, as I am.

It’s easier for the doctor when death is expected, following a long illness, a chronic disease. Harder when it’s unforeseen–the heart attack, the accident, the gun shot, the sudden death in a young man or woman who seemed a conqueror. 

Sometimes, in a long-term patient-doctor relationship, the two types of death merge: Death becomes the harsh, abrupt end to a journey taken by two travelers.

M was a special patient–thirty-something, warm, charming, brave. At our first meeting, an office visit in the early Sixties, she gave me her special homemade pickles, just to my liking, medium sour with a dill flavor. Over the next decade, she and her family and I became close. She was generous, always patient. The operations I performed to treat her mitral valve disease, a manifestation of previous rheumatic fever, reflected cardiac surgery’s progress over that time.

In her first operation, I incised her chest between the ribs on the left side. I opened her calcified

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