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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September 2009

First Cadaver

He presses the Sawzall to

her chest, slices skin to bone.
This unzipping of skin does
not stop our breaths–we’re used to

invasion of the body,
the way his fingers pinch
into her pockets as though
for a cloth or a quarter.

Grasping bone ends, he spreads
her pinkish ribs, not breaking
a sweat, to find what he’s come
for: such a small thing, really,

he plucks it easily.
Fingers bloodied, he holds out
the heart to us: take it, see,
it is no bigger than your fist.

About the poet:

Shanna Germain is a poet by nature, a short-story writer by the skin of her teeth and a novelist-in-training. Her poems and short stories have appeared in publications such as the Absinthe Literary Review, American Journal of Nursing, Best American Erotica, McSweeney’s and Salon. You can see more of her work on her website,

About the poem:

First Cadaver is actually one of two poems that bookend my years of working on the ambulance. In this poem, » Continue Reading.

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Late Again

Paul Gross

One thing I love deeply about being a family doctor is that I get to take care of people–body and soul. A patient comes into my exam room with a litany of physical symptoms (“My shoulder…my knee…my stomach…so tired…this nausea…”) and then, in response to a questioning look, suddenly bursts into tears.

It’s all mine to deal with. The shoulder. The stomach. The tears. I get to gather the pieces and see if we can’t put this broken person back together again.

What a privilege.

And yet the joy of primary care is also its curse. With each patient, I have to keep track of everything–the trivial and life-threatening, the physical and mental, the acute, the chronic and the preventive. And try as I might, I simply don’t have enough time.

On paper, my office schedule looks simple: I see one patient every fifteen minutes beginning at 8:30 a.m. If I stick to my timetable, I can wrap up my twelfth patient by 11:30, finish up any leftover paperwork and enjoy an hour’s lunch before starting again at 1:00.


The reality is that I’m never done by 11:30. In fact, my colleagues

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The Emaciated Infant

Paula Lyons

The police had been called to the house by a neighbor who said she heard children crying and hadn’t seen the mother in two days. It was the middle of a night in July, and the children’s wails would have traveled through the project windows left open to catch cooling breezes.

Paramedics provided transport to the hospital, but the normally cynical and well-defended police were so outraged that they also came to the ER, where I was the resident on call.

The police came to find and punish those who had neglected this waif, but I also sensed that, despite their tough exteriors, they came also to vent their impotent rage and to seek reassurance that this tiny, dirty, appealing thing would live. Our hospital had no pediatric ER staff, and although I was only a second-year Family Medicine resident, I was the senior “pediatrician” in-house. And so I needed information. How was the baby found? What diseases had she been exposed to? Why was she so starved? I chose the greenest member of the team, knowing that he would be the most talkative. And, as a rookie myself, I sensed a kindred spirit.

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Chemo Patient

She tried

To imagine herself dead
As she lay on her bed
Staring at the ceiling
With chemotherapy
Seeping into her veins
But she couldn’t
She could only think
Of her husband
And her children
And how they had laughed
When her hair had fallen out.

In order to die
Everything had to stop
Her heart
Her brain
The blood surging
Through her arteries
But she could not imagine it.
Seemed to be running so well.

She was not frightened of dying
But she had always
Looked forward to the future
And now it seemed
There may not be one.
It was not like her
To look backwards
So she carried on
Staring at the ceiling
And tried holding her breath.

About the poet:

Geoffrey Bowe has been writing poetry since he was sixteen and has written nursing poetry since he trained as a nurse, nearly thirty years ago. His work has appeared in two anthologies of writing by nurses (Between the Heartbeats

Chemo Patient Read More »

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