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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January 2010

Medecins sans frontieres — Liberia, 2003

Les Cohen ~

I walk warily, 

searching for life
through smoking remains
of a jungle village.

My flashlight beam
slices the black haze
of equatorial darkness.
Was it Suakoko?

No wind, rustle or drum
pierces the silence
of West African night.
Torched husks of thatched huts,
clay walls liquefied,
charred dog skeletons,
feet outstretched
as if running from Hell.
Stench of burnt flesh pervades,
stinging eyes and nostrils.

Soft footsteps coming close.
A small, thin boy approaches;
mahogany face, bright teeth
glisten in the moonlight.
Bloody machete, strings of
bleached-white finger
bones dangle over a tattered


Smiling, voice soft,
he hisses
Give me medsuh,
give me cokayh,

No, no,
don’t kill me,
I am doctuh,
take my medical bag, wallet, watch, shoes.
I try to scream, but
no sound escapes.

He slowly lifts an » Continue Reading.

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Confessions of a 75-Year-Old Drug Addict

Arlene Silverman

The physician, a slim, young man with a shaved head and intense, dark eyes, reaches out to shake hands. I fumble to extend one hand while the other clutches a questionnaire that I haven’t finished filling out. 

“That’s okay,” Dr. Gordon says. “You can finish later.”

He can tell that I’m nervous, but seems to understand. He knows that I’ve had to sign in at a window surrounded by other patients, many younger than my own children. Some of them look dazed; others have dozed off. Still others, alert, look as if they’d just come from their job at the bank.

Me? I walk with a cane. My clothes have been carefully chosen to look presentable. I’ve come through a door labeled “Chemical Dependency Clinic” in small, discreet letters. If you hadn’t been looking for the sign, you’d have missed it. The building has no street-level windows and is in a neighborhood that could kindly be called “transitional,” rundown at its core but reluctantly yielding to gentrification.

I am seventy-five years old, and I have come to Dr. Gordon because I’ve become addicted to drugs.

While he scrolls through my

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May I Have Your Attention, Please?

Adam Phillip Stern

Some sentences should never be interrupted. 

“We have the results of your HIV test,” the attending physician had begun. But fate interrupted with a seemingly endless loudspeaker announcement:

“May I have your attention, please? Would the following patients please report to the nurse’s station for morning medications….”

Nothing about Benjamin’s story was ordinary. He had been voluntarily admitted to an inpatient psychiatry unit after reporting many symptoms of depression–extreme somnolence, fatigue, thirty-pound weight loss with poor appetite, diffuse pain, decreased energy and joylessness for about three months.

Benjamin was charming, smart and eager to follow medical advice. As a relatively inexperienced medical student, I found interviewing him a refreshing change of pace from my difficult interactions with the poorly groomed individuals who paced the halls repeating nonsensical phrases and questions over and over again. Benjamin always peppered our talks with comments about current events and informed questions about his care. He could often be seen reading the newspaper or interacting with other patients or staff in a way that made me wonder whether he really belonged there.

Benjamin’s life story was as engaging as his demeanor. He had worked

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Reflections From a Senior Citizen

I used to talk of fun and games

Now I talk of aches and pains.
I used to paint the town bright red
Now at nine I am in bed.

I used to dream of lovers bold.
Now if truth be told
The only men who interest me
Are those with a medical degree.

“Why,” you ask, “have they such clout?”
Well–we have so much to talk about:
There’s my arthritis and stenosis,
Hypertension, scoliosis.

In a cozy room, alone, we chat.
We never have a lover’s spat.
So keep your handsome Romeos
I’ll always take those medicos!

About the poet:

I am ninety-five years old, widowed, with three married children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. My first published work appeared in February, 1931, in The Record Book of my graduating class of Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia. It was not until the 1980s that my work appeared in print again. I was a reporter for the Mt. Airy Express, writing on assignment twice monthly and actually being paid! The paper folded at the end of that decade. Again there was a hiatus,

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Pulse Readers’ Hopes and Wishes for the New Year

Pulse Readers

Editor’s Note: Ten days ago, we invited Pulse readers to share with us their hopes and wishes for the new year. Here are some of their responses.

For my young patients who are living with HIV, I hope for relief from the stigma that shadows their lives, their health and their futures, and for acceptance and respect from family, friends, schools and society. For youth growing up surrounded by violence and poverty and by systems of education, health and human services that often fail them, I wish for empowering systems, safe spaces and nurturing adults who will help them to dream and to realize their potential.

Cathy Samples
(Director, Boston HAPPENS Program
at Children’s Hospital Boston)
Boston, MA


After watching my daughters experience three miscarriages, my wish (and prayer) for the new year is a healthy grandchild. My oldest daughter is now six weeks pregnant, and her first ultrasound is next week. We’re praying this little one arrives in August, healthy and whole. What greater gift and wish is there than new life?

Elizabeth Szewczyk
Enfield, CT


I wish that today’s medical students

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