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 2009

Invisible Thread

Donald O. Kollisch

From: Michael

To: Donald O. Kollisch
Subject: Serious medical update


I can’t say for sure why I’m writing to you, but you were such an important part of my life during the onset of my illness that I feel a strong desire to communicate with you.

The mysterious autoimmune disorder that was lurking in my body has finally had the decency to declare itself. Unfortunately, it is systemic sclerosis, also called systemic scleroderma, which means I’m facing a gradual but ultimately fatal process of skin, joint and organ degeneration.

It has hit my lungs, seriously affecting my breathing capacity, and has hit my digestive system also. Recently I was in the hospital for ten days because of serious digestive problems and an inability to eat. I’m now on intravenous nutrition, with a line in my arm. I can eat a small amount of food for pleasure, but there’s a real question as to whether I can ever take in enough nutrition by mouth to get off the intravenous line.

My rheumatologist at DHMC is wonderful–a good, honest and very compassionate young doctor. She has been completely » Continue Reading.

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Wanting to Be Lovely

Breast budding, spring leaves,

twelve, too young for babies,
she grasps her pillow to her belly,
the smell of the first crocuses,
the last cardinal’s song
echoes from the hawthorn.
The lemons whisper in her ear
before she squeezes, rubs
the rinds on her damp skin,
her hand touches nylon,
lace, a mirror image river,
a windowless desire:
the first stirring of her fingers
between her thighs, the robins’
annual return becomes monthly.

About the poet:

Kenneth P. Gurney lives in Albuquerque, NM. His poetry mostly appears on the Web, and his two self-published poetry books, Writers’ Block and Greeting Card, are available online. Gurney has participated in the University of New Mexico’s Arts-in-Medicine program and hosts a poetry salon at his home twice a month. Other pleasures he enjoys: baseball, bicycling, hiking the desert and foothills trails, Scrabble and good conversation. Gurney’s Website is

About the poem:

The image of a girl wanting to be adult came to me nearly fully formed out of the artistic ether, and I painted what I saw with words.

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Edgar Figueroa

Looking at Millie in her living-room-turned-hospital-quarters, I can’t help reflecting on the four years we’ve shared as patient and doctor. 

We’ve come a long way since our first visit. I was an inexperienced resident; she was a wiry woman who looked to be in her late sixties but was actually fifty-three. 

She’d sat back and stared at me, sizing me up.

“You know I have kids that are older than you?” were her first words. 

I wasn’t sure if she was complimenting me on my youthful looks or expressing uneasiness at having me as her doctor. I smiled, blushed, quickly refilled her prescription and asked her to follow up.

Over time, I grew quite fond of Millie; seeing her name on the schedule always sparked feelings of pleasant anticipation. She, for her part, somehow grew to trust me, and the health-center staff learned not to argue when she insisted on seeing only “my doctor.” At each visit she would share more of her story: how hard she’d struggled for much of her life, raising three children as a single mother with little support and less money; how much she liked her cigarettes and the occasional drink.

Now Millie

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The Save

Dan J. Schmidt

I started medical school thinking I wanted to be a family doctor–someone who could work in a small town and deal with whatever walked through the door. But in our third year, when we received our first taste of clinical medicine, I found my surgery and ER rotations exciting. I was at our state’s major trauma center, and I loved it. Fixing things gives me a thrill–and the power to save a life is even more alluring.

Each “save” felt like a miraculous triumph. Take the nineteen-year-old visiting Australian, stabbed in a random street altercation, his blood pressure dropping as fluid accumulated around his heart. Right there in the ER, he had his chest split open and his right ventricle patched by the very cool chief surgery resident. 

But after several weeks of 5 a.m. surgery rounds and every-third-night call, I started to feel a nagging sense of unmet need, both my own and the patients’. To me, it seemed that the specialized care we were giving was excellent but fractured: No one was responsible for the whole person. 

It was 8 a.m. during my third week of the rotation. The third-year resident had led us medical

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The Limits of Medicine

I can not change the color of the sky.

The texture of the rain, the distance of a star
must needs be fixed by ancient ritual
unaccepted by our modernity.

I can not change the length of your night.
The number of hours, the days of your life
are set by stern fate, impassive to sighs,
unsympathetic, and cold to your plight.

I can not count the breaths that are left.
Day into day, year into frightened morn,
only you, in your heart can know
the obscurity of the sand that now sifts.

I can not make a single tear move;
Its salt will wend its way to the earth
that calls with an irresistible force,
one that will not soon leave off.

I have been roundly trounced
by movements and thunderings greater
by far than my hand’s grasp;
and for their final victory, I apologize. 

About the poet: 

Frances Wu is assistant director of the Somerset Family Medicine Residency Program in Somerville, NJ, and teaches at New Jersey Medical School/UMDNJ and Drexel University College of Medicine. “My passions include caring for my patients as if they were members of my family; teaching family medicine, bioethics and patient safety to

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