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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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June 2009

Giving Care

Ronna L. Edelstein

When I was six, my family and I spent a week in Atlantic City. I loved the Boardwalk with its saltwater-taffy aroma and colorful sights, but I feared the pier that jutted far out into the Atlantic. One moonless night, my big brother bet me a bag of taffy that I couldn’t walk to the pier’s end by myself. Never one to back down, I accepted his bet. But the farther out I walked, the more frightened I got. It felt like one more step would send me off the pier’s edge and into the bottomless black water. My parents rescued me by dashing to the end of the pier and carrying me back to safety. 

I spent the next half-century living under two illusions: one, that nothing in my life would ever be as scary as that dark pier; and two, that my parents would always be there to save me. In school, when my Lilliputian classmates mocked my five-foot-eight-inch stature, Ma and Dad talked to me about inner beauty and strength. After the rice strewn along my wedding aisle disintegrated into sharp slivers of divorce, Ma and Dad gave me the financial and emotional support » Continue Reading.

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Karen Myers

“I can feel the life force leaving me,” Mike says as he massages my legs with his rough, careful hands. He doesn’t use oil or lotion like the other massage therapists. Just his sticky, Marlboro-scented fingers. I lie in my underwear beneath a green sheet. My bony shoulder blades and crooked spine press into the table, having long since lost their cushion of muscle. 

“We’re getting older,” Mike says, even though we’ve barely reached forty. “Maybe that’s why we’re so afraid. We don’t have the energy to fight like we used to.”

Mike’s eyes bulge like a bullfrog’s. When I first knew him, I found them a bit frightening. His voice is raspy and deep. He has a fading tattoo on his left biceps and a ponytail that curls down his back. I met him at the massage school, where he was training to be a therapist and I was getting treatment for muscular dystrophy. I always thought he was quirky, and he talks too much, but his massages are cheap.

Since my diagnosis at age fourteen, when we first noticed a slight limp and a protruding shoulder blade, I’d spent most of my years ignoring my body.

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Now a lightness

4:57 am, Sunday

This week went
from caring with hope 
for a lucid patient to facing 
reality in advocating sanity 
to an insane extended 
family to haggling with specialists
to giving up time
and again telling Mary 
she was dying and then watching
her cling to her lost life like
everyone else to 
finally withdrawing all care
except for comfort 
and comforting the now lucid family 
while the breaths became 
and the pauses

and everyone 
cried, including myself, 
the last one 

It was raining
when they called me. The family 
said it just started, right before 
the end. Like the sky had opened up

to let her in.

About the poet:

Fasih Hameed, a family physician in Santa Rosa, California, is currently completing a fellowship in integrative medicine for the underserved. After graduation he will continue to bring integrative medicine to community health centers in northern California. He has dabbled in the creative arts all his life and is currently focusing on music (guitar/vocals/percussion/composition), poetry and building wooden surfboards. In medical school he worked with the art group Students Against Right Brain Atrophy, and he still organizes and attends peaceful anti-atrophy rallies whenever possible. 

About the

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To My Left

Anne Herbert

I walk down the airplane aisle, scanning the rows. My eyes finally fall on 15F. My seat.

My nightmare.

This window seat means only one thing to me: someone to my left. A man, to be exact–middle-aged, reading the New York Times and snacking on a bag of peanuts. He doesn’t notice as I shove my purse under the seat and sit down. My only thoughts are of blending in–with the other passengers, with the chair, with the plane itself. Anything.

My objective on this five-hour flight is simple and clear. It’s the same one that I cling to almost every second of every day: to keep my left side hidden from the world.

Everyone has a good side–a more photogenic side, a certain way that they turn when taking pictures. I don’t have a good side, but rather a “less bad” side–a side whose mere completeness is what appeals to me. 

My left side charts the history of my birth defect. My severe underbite is an orthodontic byproduct of my cleft lip and palate. The scar under my nose records the surgery that closed my cleft lip. The scar on my hip commemorates a bone-marrow transfer from hip to

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