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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 2011

Washing Feet

Robert Fawcett

Being thorough, I remove a holey sock 
to view a diabetic man’s filthy feet.
I use the time to complete our talk
of what drove him to live on the street
as I wonder how any of this can help.

While he tells me more of his medical past, 
I run warm water into a stainless bowl.
I immerse both his feet and begin to ask
myself what good it does for this poor soul
to allow himself to undergo this ablution.

Silently I sluice the water between his toes
and soap the crusty callous at his heel.
I marvel at his arch and notice how closely
it fits my palm. I know he can feel
this proximity too. He shuts his eyes.

Months of useless layers peel away,
revealing layers useless weeks ago.
Removing the tough brown hide of yesterday
yields clean pink skin, but we both know
this ritual will be useless days from now.

Still, this moment may withstand time’s test,
teaching us each lessons unknown before.
I learn the medicine of selflessness.
He learns what medicine is really » Continue Reading.

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The End of Nice

Rosalind Kaplan

“Mouse bite, one year ago” read the Chief Complaint entry on the chart I picked up from the “nonurgent” pile.

I was a second-year medical resident, on an eight-week stint in the Temple University Hospital emergency room. It was 3:50 am, the beginning of the end of the night shift. All hell could still break loose before my shift ended, but for now we were in a lull, and the less serious cases got our attention.

I looked at the time of triage for the mouse-bite patient. Five o’clock the previous afternoon.

“Mouse bite one year ago! And the patient’s been here eleven hours!” I exclaimed aloud to no one in particular. “What the fuck? What idiot sits here all night for that?”

“Nice potty-mouth, Kaplan,” commented Dave, the other resident on duty, as he wrote in a chart. “And where’s your compassion? Remember, that’s a suffering person you’re talking about.”

“Right. Do you want to see Miss Mouse-bite then?”

“No, I’ve got a guy with an insect in his ear, and I’m keeping him,” Dave replied.

It wasn’t always like this. I wasn’t always like this. 

I started medical school a soft-spoken girl, a tenderhearted sort. As a medical

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Goodbye From the ICU

Andrew R Carey

I do not know this man. I have never met him. All I know about him are the words typed in his medical chart–and that, before the day is out, he will die.

I have never heard him speak. I probably couldn’t pick him out in a crowd. Today he looks like a water bed: yellow, warm and squishy.

I wonder if he ever pondered what his last days might be like. Surely he hadn’t thought that at age forty-five he’d succumb to the final stages of hepatitis C, a disease he probably never knew he had. He’s been in this Boston ICU for forty days, idling under the cautious vigil of interns like me, doctors fresh out of medical school.

I have met the man’s mother, a small Puerto Rican lady who has the stereotypical osteoporotic dowager’s hump and always wears a decorative shawl over her head; we’ve spoken a number of times.

On this bitter December day, it’s been my profound duty to inform her that, despite our best efforts and elaborate technology, her son is still getting worse,

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Enduring Guardianship

Sue Ogle

I was cool on the way to the lawyer, we’d talked it all through, no problem.

So why am I remembering the old kauri house where the wiring was dodgy
and I held my breath as she flicked the switch to turn off the power? How can
I do it without her, flick off the switch of life, decide on her fate or my own,
without consultation, alone? What if she goes and I’m inconsolable? 
What if she stays and doesn’t know me? 

And why am I seeing Durdle Door, that day when the Sea Scouts came upon us;
we were naked, swimming alone, so we thought. Why am I feeling the sting
of the storm on Mt. Aspiring as she yanked me up the ravine? 
Why am I watching the furious river trash those filthy trail bikes? 
We laughed and cheered; we thought our laughter would never end. 

I was cool on the way to the lawyer, we’d talked it all through, no problem.

So why am I hearing the birds in the flax at breakfast time? 
Who will speak to the sparrows for me, find out who’s courting who? 
Who will converse with the cows, compliment

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Benjamin Ostro with Boris D Veysman

Back when I was a premedical student, I didn’t devote much time to community service. I cared about helping others, and yet, feeling as driven as I did to excel in my academic and extracurricular commitments, I had little time for volunteering. 

It’s been my sense that most physicians don’t do much community service. If you ask a doctor why this is so, he or she might shrug and say something like “My work benefits the community” or “I’m already overworked.” 

Upon entering medical school, I absorbed this attitude more or less unconsciously. I viewed volunteer work as “rewarding,” but devoid of any deeper personal value. It was as if, before even joining the medical profession, I’d acquired some of its bad habits.

Then, as a third-year medical student, I was assigned to volunteer at Damon House, where drug addicts pick up the pieces of their broken lives. 

Heading into the experience, I anticipated that Damon House would not be for me. I don’t enjoy heart-wrenching stories–and besides, what did I have to offer? Why would anyone there

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