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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August 2009


Lisa deMauro

My big sister Chris, 55, had recently returned to her first career, nursing, when she wrenched her back one day while helping to lift a patient. After weeks of physical therapy proved unhelpful, her internist ordered some tests, which indicated that her back injury might signal something more sinister. She’d had a lumpectomy for a “stage 0” breast cancer five years earlier, and her doctor advised her to make an appointment with the newly appointed head of a brand-new cancer center nearby.

Chris and I were nine years apart–a difference that precluded any sisterly rivalry–and we’d always been very close. She’d occupied a central role in my life: first, as a playful second mother to me, then as my ideal of teenage glamour, and finally as a friend with whom I shared confidences about the joys and sorrows of grown-up life. When it became clear that she might be getting bad news, I needed to be with her, just as my parents did.

The three of us converged on the Pennsylvania town where Chris was living. We met her in the hospital lobby, hugged each other for long moments, then headed off together to meet with the » Continue Reading.

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Looking for Respect

Ashrei Bayewitz

This may sound strange, but I secretly looked forward to my colonoscopy.

I was excited to see the people in the colonoscopy suite–the receptionists, the nurses and my doctor. I knew that they would like me, because I would be brave and respectful. That’s what’s always happened since I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease ten years ago. During my multiple colonoscopies and countless doctor visits and other outpatient procedures, I invariably build up a rapport with someone, be it a doctor, nurse or staff member. I’ve always been a good patient, and now that I’m a second-year medical student as well, I can understand their work a little better. I expect them to sense my goodwill and to treat me in turn with respect and caring.

This appointment got off to a good start: The woman who registered me seemed nice and appreciated my interest in the pictures decorating her cubicle wall. And I wasn’t just being polite–I really did like those black-and-white photos of old TV and film stars. She even had The Honeymooners up there! I also got along well with the first nurse–we shared a laugh about the trouble I’d had finding a quarter

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Johnny Doe

Policemen pose like plastic toy soldiers,

point rifle barrels in every direction,
ghetto bird’s spotlight glints off helmets.
Ambulance allowed across yellow tape,
diesel engine grinds up the sharp grade.
In no moon you glow fish white belly up,
streetlamp casts mottled shadows,
your blood a preschool finger painting
smeared on sidewalk.
I am ordered to shear off your slick, soaked
jeans, to smash your chest, beat your heart
for you. Your arms extend savior-like,
needles are pounded into veins,
translucent bags held skyward
like offerings to a life-giving deity,
clear liquid bleeds in, your blood pours out,
three bullet holes versus six-minute
trip to emergency room. How old are you?
I think about my son asleep at home.
I wonder if your mother’s at work.
I breathe deep, drive fast,
make the siren a prayer
too loud for your God to ignore.

About the poet:

An emergency medical technician for twelve years, Yvonne Estrada currently works as an ambulance driver for the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Authority. “I have always written poems, and my

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Jo Marie Reilly

As I teach first- and second-year medical students to take patient histories and to perform physical examinations, I always feel humbled and privileged–energized by their compassion, enthusiasm and facile, curious minds.

Occasionally, I feel particularly challenged–especially when I’m teaching a student who, though bright, is struggling to acquire some of medicine’s basic skills. As we journey up the learning curve together, my responsibilities can conflict: as a teacher, I want to nurture an aspiring student physician, yet as a physician, I must ensure that patients receive appropriate care.

Now, sitting quietly in the corner of the room and watching a young medical student interview a county hospital psychiatric patient, I begin to feel this tension.

“What brought you into the hospital?” the student queries nervously.

Small and reserved, she’s quite a contrast to her patient–a burly, imposing middle-aged man, his body splattered with tattoos of birds of prey and firearms. He folds his arms tightly across his chest, and a large cross sparkles on his neck chain.

“It’s when I tried to commit suicide on the bridge,” he responds agitatedly.

There is a long, awkward pause. “So…what medication did you

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