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 2010


Jessica Tekla Les

During my third year of medical school I was performing a routine breast exam, more for practice than anything else. I was trying the concentric-circles-around-the-nipple technique, one of several I’d been taught. About halfway through the right breast I found a lima-bean-sized lump, not far from the breastbone. I took liberties with this particular exam. I poked the lump, tried to move the lump, squished down on the lump. 

I took such liberties because it was my own breast. 

At the time, I responded clinically. I thought to myself, I am twenty-seven years old, with no family history and no risk factors. Nothing to worry about. I knew the likely diagnosis, a fibroadenoma or localized fibrocystic change, both common in my age group. I double-checked a textbook to be sure, then dismissed the lump from my mind.

A month later, shortly after my twenty-eighth birthday, my primary care doctor stumbled upon the lump during an annual physical–even though I hadn’t mentioned it to her. She agreed that the lump was tender and freely mobile, the opposite of what a cancer should feel like, but she ordered an ultrasound, just to be safe.

I thought, Really?

Then fear crept in. 

Five » Continue Reading.

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Life, Preciously Poured

Kate Benham

You pour a cup of pecans
Like a kid catching raindrops
In a bucket.
Careful not to spill,
Your fingers playing tremolo on a 
Violin-string cup measure.

Your bed-tucked
Mouth, warm, with
Tongue searching the lips
For forgotten first lines of bedtime stories
Like misplaced glasses, resting on your head.
I read to you, now,
In hospital beds.

Forehead wrinkles stacked 
In three creases–
Your crossword face,
Mouth-chewed pencil between your lips,
Scooping for synonyms 
As you now scoop sugar.

Patient tablespoons of vanilla
Heaped with the effort
Of standing up for fifteen minutes

Love spelled in spilled flour
By hairless eyelid blinks.

This mother’s day coffee cake
Streuseled with memories of able-bodied bike rides
Suspended in white hospital gauze.
It tastes like antiseptic and cinnamon. 
This baking is labor
For the hands of a heart surgeon
Too tremored to hold a scalpel,
Hold a measuring cup,
Hold on.

His life 
Preciously poured,
Savored in my mouth
Even as it slides down 
My throat–

About the poet:

Kate Benham graduated from Stanford in 2009 with a degree in feminist studies. She is currently working for a women’s health nonprofit in India and applying to medical school. She

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Falling in Love With My Doctor

Judith Lieberman

The other doctors I consulted called him brilliant. His past patients praised his compassion. He actually responded to e-mails. And, lastly, he was known as the best-looking doctor at the cancer center. What more could I ask?

On the other hand, what choice did I have? After twelve years, I was facing a recurrence of a relatively rare oral cancer, located inconveniently at the base of my tongue. The treatment options were not great. The radical surgery recommended by one prominent cancer center could have left me unable to swallow, talk or eat normally.

My incredible husband stayed up many nights researching surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and all the combinations. On the bright side, my teenagers cleaned their rooms without being asked! 

The last straw came when, while talking on my cell phone to yet another cancer center and making the turn into a parking lot, I crashed my car. Just one more broken item needing to be fixed.

* * * * *

I prepare for eight weeks of combined chemotherapy and radiation, which my new doctor candidly describes as “setting off a bomb in your mouth.” Sitting in the exam room, I know that my husband

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Jordan Grumet

I was a third-year medical student in the first week of my obstetrics rotation. The obstetrics program was known to be high-pressure, its residents among the best. Mostly women, they were a hard-core group–smart, efficient, motivated–and they scared the heck out of us medical students.

I remember the day clearly: Not only was I on call, but I was assigned to the chief resident’s team. I felt petrified. 

We’d started morning rounds as usual, running down the list of patients in labor. Five minutes in, my chief got a “911” page from the ER, located in the next building. This seldom happened, so instead of calling back, we ran downstairs and over to the trauma bay.

We walked into pure chaos. The patient was 27, in her last weeks of pregnancy and actively exsanguinating–bleeding to death. She and her husband had been fighting; apparently he’d picked up a kitchen knife and stabbed her in the neck.

As the ER physician and the trauma surgeon worked rapidly on the woman’s neck, my chief readied herself to deliver the baby. She turned to me.

“Quick, get me a sterile gown and a scalpel.” 

Helping her to gown and glove, I

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