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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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March 2010

Sweet Lies

Marilyn Hillman

I can sense the question before it comes.

“How are you doing?” 

I want to answer, How do you think I’m doing, with my husband morphing into a ghost? I’m dying here. But thanks for asking.

Instead I clench my fists and deliver a cheerful response: “I’m good.” Which is, of course, a lie.

My husband is demented.

I cannot say these words out loud. Pushed to the wall, I’ll say that my husband has dementia, like it’s temporary–a virus curable by bed rest and chicken soup. Murray admits only to memory problems, while I split hairs over which verb I can stand to put next to his decline. We skitter around the truth like insects caught in a pool of light and scurrying for cover. The reality is, we’re on a steady downhill course, with Murray in frantic pursuit of words and ideas he can’t remember, while I chase after him, trying to mine precious nuggets of coherence buried in his muddy ramblings,

Murray imagines himself still capable of living a richly layered life, despite what his psychiatrist calls a severely impaired executive function system. What the hell is » Continue Reading.

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In the Pediatric Ward

In this forest of tubes and bottles,
Children wander in sleep.
A dying bird drops
From the corner of my eye.
The night nurse floats through paths
Tending the rooted tubes,
Weighing the pause between breaths.
In the dark, a man’s voice
Stuns like a hunter’s gun.
We wait for dawn.

Last night we cried–four worn children
Facing their walls, and I,
Handing out animal crackers.
Willow’s bones are flaking
John’s eye refuses light
Paige’s ears close up and
Something is eating the soft parts of
Adam’s knee.
We know these things and we cry.

The children force the beds to do acrobatic tricks.
They’ve decorated the sheets with urine, gum, and ice cream.
Shrieking, they dribble gravy; Collages bloom on the floor.
They glue flies to the walls, punch holes in dolls and blankets.
The children are not civilized, and the women have left off makeup.

After the baths, the doctors
Visit their explanations
Upon the numbered beds.
They know about bones, eyes, ears,
For they’ve inspected the bodies.

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Family Business

Joanne Wilkinson

My mother’s mother was more a force of nature than a person. Chablis in hand, stockings bagging a little over her solid, practical navy pumps, she delivered her opinions without the slightest sugar-coating. She used words like “simply” and “absolutely” a lot. “He is quite simply the worst mayor we’ve ever had.” “She had absolutely no business having four children.” My cousins and I all listened and quaked, hoping the wrath would not be turned on us. Even after my mother’s death, when you might imagine she would soften toward me a little, I still felt the need to stand up straighter whenever she looked at me. Behind her back, I called her “The Graminator.”

The Graminator had been retired for almost as long as I could remember and she had three major interests: wine, the stock ticker on CNN, and the politics of the Catholic Church, upon which she delivered opinions at every party.

I thought of her almost like Scrooge, hoarding and counting her certainties while all the people she had alienated went out to eat together in a messy, shabby, second-rate fellowship of true happiness. I felt caught in the middle: I cared

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