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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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April 2011

Medicine Land Celebrates a Birthday

Paul Gross

The first real patient of my medical career was a 60-year-old man in the surgical intensive care unit. I met him on the first day of the third year of medical school, when students join teams of doctors doing inpatient medicine.

The surgical team met at 7:00 am–a ludicrously early hour, I thought. There were nearly ten of us–four students, a couple of interns and senior residents and a chief resident.

As the team gathered around the patient’s bed, we students hung back, looking at the form before us. A pale, fleshy foot poked out from under his hospital gown. The room smelled funny.

The patient was comatose. Had he been awake and alert, he might not have been heartened by our team’s assessment, which was swift and automatic. In a telegraphic blur a resident recounted this poor man’s dismal hospital course, which included postoperative complications, and rattled off lab results. An intern picked up a clipboard from the edge of the bed and recited vital signs. A senior resident palpated the man’s abdomen.

The chief resident looked in our direction. “Listen to the lungs!” he barked. Startled, we jumped and began fumbling with our stethoscopes.

With his » Continue Reading.

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One Hundred Wiser

Anne K. Merritt

I gather my belongings: stained white coat, stethoscope, pen light, black ballpoint. I stuff the last two granola bars into my canvas bag. I glance at the clock on the microwave, which is three minutes fast. 

Twenty-two minutes until my shift begins. One minute before I will lock the door to my apartment. 

Precision is critical: ER shifts change fast and blend together, from late nights to early mornings to mid-afternoons. Suns set and rise, moons disappear then burst again into full spheres of light. But the rhythm remains fixed. 

I gulp the last ounces of water and grab my keys just as the clock digits change. 

Last week, I reached and surpassed my hundredth shift as a resident physician in the emergency department.

Early on in my emergency medicine residency, I looked forward to my drive to the hospital–twenty minutes of freedom and anticipation. I used to flip from one radio station to the next, scanning for the perfect song to begin my shift. “I Gotta Feeling,” by Black Eyed Peas, perhaps. Or Billy Joel’s “This is the Time.” I was ready to live in the thrill and immediacy of emergency medicine. What excitement will today bring? I’d

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Stephenie McKinnon

He came to us leukemic listened carefully said his prayers took his meds showed us his
pictures: wife two kids dog cat baby’s first birthday talked about basketball and God and
anxiety and what it feels like to be hairless and a good patient
He came to us leukemic followed directions read his scriptures took his meds
showed us his pictures: wife three daughters hamsters the kids in matching
Easter dresses talked about running and heroes and how bored his children
would get when they would visit and what it feels like to be helpless and hungry
for food that “doesn’t drip”

He walked the halls daily stopped to chat between laps contemplated everything deeply
complained justifiably about the food threw up got transfused slept and slept
He walked daily sometimes shaking always hot with the exertion couldn’t speak
between his breaths used a walker and a shoulder cried in private rolled himself
at first so we could wipe him clean got transfused threw up couldn’t sleep

His wife came in to help him pack held the door of the car while

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An Apology

Jordan Grumet

I’m sorry, Mrs. Lewis, for not making it to the hospital to see you yesterday….

Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like I could never catch up. My wife was going downtown for work, and we had to get up early. While she prepared, I helped my two-year-old son get dressed. We walked my wife to the train, then waited for the nanny. She was running late: I finally made it out of the house by 7:20, ten minutes before a meeting at the office. Since I didn’t have any patients in the hospital–or so I thought–I could go directly.

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Recovery Room

Warren Holleman

We’re sitting in a circle: seven women and me. Most are in their thirties and forties, and in their second, third or fourth month of sobriety. They look professional in the suits they’ve assembled from the donations closet of our inner-city recovery center.

I start things off by reminding everyone that this is the last day of the group. The last hour, in fact.

All eyes turn to Dorothy.

Dorothy is a proud woman, tall and tough and strong. And a former track and field star, although now she’s wheelchair-bound.

She speaks in a deep, husky, monotone punctuated occasionally by dramatic earthquakes–otherwise known as spastic tremors. But in all this time, she’s avoided talking about herself, fueling the suspicion that she’s hiding something really interesting.

I feel tense. Dorothy was assigned to me for individual therapy, but she hasn’t opened up with me, either. I tried showing her how to construct a family genogram, thinking that something tactile might resonate. She played along, but I could see she wasn’t buying it.

“Five years ago,” she tells us, “I got shot in the spine. Yeah.”

The other women fire questions: “How did you get shot?” “How do you take

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