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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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August 2011

Mom Journeys to the Other Side

William Bryan

Mom was not fully conscious when she crossed over, but I’m quite certain she was aware of both sides of the veil as she departed the realm of the living. This is a brief story of her dying. 

After my dad died, more than twenty years ago, my mom moved from our family home to live with my brother, Jim, and his wife, Barb. 

In retrospect, it was an act of supreme foresight, ensuring that she’d be able to stay in a family setting even if she became unable to care for herself at some point. She enjoyed many quality years with her four grandchildren and traveled with her family to Greece, Maui and Croatia, among other exotic places. 

Mom’s travels came to an end in late 2009 when illness struck–a progressive blood disorder, congestive heart failure, a bleeding ulcer, shingles and a mini-stroke. Barb, a PhD chemist turned in-house care provider, made it possible through her unselfish service for Mom to remain at home for all but the last week of her life. 

Over the course of 2010, Mom was in and out of the hospital many times, her blood disorder growing worse. 

Then, on Monday evening » Continue Reading.

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The Whole Story

Veneta Masson

After she died
there was talk of war
the stock market crashed
the cat didn’t eat for three days
her youngest came home from school in tears
her husband grew a beard.

I do not lie when I tell you these things
nor do I tell the whole story.

I do not say that her funeral day dawned bright
and unrepentant

or that all the sunflowers in the city
were gathered at her wake.

I do not mention the ruffled bride
also in white, waiting discreetly outside
the door of the chapel.

I do not tell how, at the gravesite
smiling children blew
soap bubbles over her casket

and how they were not buried with her
but were borne up and away,
carried gently on a light wind.

About the author:

Veneta Masson is a nurse and poet living in Washington, DC.

About the poem:

“I’m looking at an early draft of this poem, before it had a title. This is my story, I scribbled, and I will decide what truth to tell/what truth to hide. Isn’t it just so? Ask any of us who were at the funeral and we’ll tell you the whole story. Each story will be true, but

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Hospital Corners

Eileen Valinoti

“And now, as we finish up, we’ll need to put our blankets away. I want you to fold them like this,” announced my yoga teacher–a bit sternly, I thought. With swift, deft hands, she began to demonstrate. Something in the tone of her voice and the sharp jut of her chin brought me back to Miss Coyle…

Miss Mary Coyle RN was the nursing arts instructor in my first year of training, more than fifty years ago. She taught our group of thirty–twenty-seven eager eighteen-year-old women and three young nuns–the basic nursing skills: how to give a bed bath; administer an injection; prepare hot and cold compresses, etc. 

Twice a week, my classmates and I filed into her classroom, which was set up to resemble a sickroom. Its features included basins, bandage trays, a large bath thermometer and a hospital bed, on which reclined a lifelike mannequin whom we called “Mrs. Chase.”

One morning Miss Coyle announced that we were to learn how to make the hospital bed. 

Some of us yawned and shifted in our seats. 

Miss Coyle frowned. “A badly made bed is uncomfortable to lie in, and a wrinkled bottom sheet can lead to pressure

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Are You a Doctor?

Margaret Kim Peterson

“Are you a doctor?” 

I am sitting by my husband’s hospital bed in the surgical admission ward, where he is being prepped for surgery to close a severe pressure ulcer on his left ischium, the knob on the pelvis where your weight rests when you sit. 

Dwight was eighteen when an illness damaged his spinal cord, rendering him a paraplegic. He is 49 now, and developing the kinds of problems that go along with being a middle-aged cripple (his self-descriptor of choice). 

One such problem is pressure ulcers. We thought we’d learned how to manage these, but met our match in this one, which has refused to heal no matter what we’ve done. Finally Dwight has agreed to surgery, and to the months of post-operative hospitalization that will follow. 

So here we are in surgical admissions, talking with the anesthesiologist. 

“You’re anemic, so you’ll need to be transfused before surgery,” she tells Dwight. “The surgeon has ordered two units of packed red blood cells.” 

“What?” Dwight asks, through a fog of preoperative anxiety. 

“Packed red blood cells,” I say. “As opposed

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