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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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July 2011

Through a Hollow Tube

Jan Jahner

She carries forward the bundle like a giant fish
vacant eyes above wood-smoked plaid bathrobe
hook me as we unwrap his blue stillness
words swim upstream,
I am swallowed by a wave, standing by admissions, heading out to sea.

I left mine on the rug by her sister, curled in cartoons.
Room Four has a gurney and a chair
Stained, nail-bitten fingers slide through silky dark hair
She starts again, how the cabin was cold, how she wrapped him up tight
how he should be hungry, mine holds her bottle now.

One year out from nursing school in Adrenaline Heights
with minimal scales, I sink to the ocean bottom
dark in boulders and rust.
She starts again, how the cabin was cold, how she wrapped him up tight
the coroner’s number is taped by the phone, my knees ache from
She starts again, how the cabin was cold, how…
there’s commotion in the hallway 

She starts again, how the cabin was cold
My words a hollow tube to the surface, I have to keep breathing
The ER’s filling up.

About the author:

Navigating emergency, hospice and palliative-care nursing for the last twenty-seven years has provided Jan Jahner with rich » Continue Reading.

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Matthew Hirschtritt

Walking from an exam room to the nurse’s station in the small outpatient clinic where I worked as a second-year medical student, I paused by a window to gaze out at the winter sunset. After a moment, I looked down to scan the notebook where I kept my schedule and notes for my last patient of the day.

4:15, Ms. Smith, 26, lump on groin–the bare bones of a story waiting to be filled in.

Feeling tired and looking forward to dinner, I sighed dramatically, dropped into a chair in front of a computer console and called up Ms. Smith’s electronic health record. 

Like most medical records, it was divided into tabs that reflected the parts of a medical history–“Past Surgical History,” “Medications,” “Allergies,” etc. 

I clicked on the tab labeled “Problem List.” Up popped a staggering collection of diagnoses, from diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol to kidney failure and dialysis.

Yikes! I thought. This isn’t going to be easy.

In the eighteen months since I’d started medical school, I’d seen quite a few patients with multiple chronic conditions. For the most part when

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Mementos and Memories

Paul Rousseau

Delores sits tilted to the right in a worn wheelchair, a curtain separating her from a sleeping roommate. 

She is wearing a blue blouse stained with something orange, perhaps Jell-O, and white pants and white socks. A worn gold wedding band adorns the fourth finger of her left hand. Her hair is a shiny gray, perfectly coiffed, and her face is etched with deep wrinkles, a testament to eighty-nine years of life. 

A tiny bedside shelf displays two faded black-and-white photos from the 1930s or ’40s: one is of Delores in her twenties, a demure smile on her face; the other shows Delores with a young man in a bow tie–her husband. 

A greeting card sits nearby, almost falling off the shelf; its front shows a tree with beautiful, gold-glittered leaves, an old-fashioned style rarely seen today. 

Since the card is propped open, I read the scribbled note: “Love you Mom. Miss you so much. See you next week. Anna.”

I walk over to Delores. 

“Hi Delores, it’s Dr. Rousseau.” 

She looks at me blankly, as if I’m of no more consequence

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The Irony of Being a Student

Cole Sterling

True difficulty lies not
           In school, or staying involved,
           Or scoring well on tests.
Time and dedication are mandatory.
Everyone can distinguish black from white,
And everyone can sculpt something from clay.
           But being able to paint the empty spaces with color,
           Fill the cracks with laughter and passion and spirit–
           Such an art is easily forgotten,
           Or easily ignored.
Rhodopsin alone could suffice for reading resumes,
So why waste the time developing a genuine heart?

True difficulty lies
           In learning when to slow down–
           When to surrender yourself to life’s passions and wonders,
           When to paint or skydive or even just breathe.
           When to enjoy whatever you have at this very moment.
True difficulty lies
           In knowing how to balance the scales–
           How to reach the success found in monochromatic TVs
           Without chewed-up cuticles and tightened shoulders,
           And a cast-iron soul.
Indeed, true difficulty lies
           In trusting yourself.
           Trusting that becoming the person you’ve always dreamed of being
           Is far more important than reaching the position you’ve always dreamed of having.
           Trusting that the path toward finding yourself
           Will always

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On the Bottom Rung

I was in my third year of medical school, and the initial week of my first-ever hospital clerkship had passed without incident. I showed up on time, did what I was told, stepped on no toes and followed my patients as well as I could.

At the close of that week, however, my intern pulled me aside to ask, “Remember learning how to put an IV in a mannequin during the workshop earlier today? Well, there’s a patient in radiology, waiting for a CT scan. The tech can’t flush the IV, and I need you to do it. If you can’t, put in a new one.”

Tech? Flush? I meditated on my intern’s words and realized that this would be my first unsupervised procedure.

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