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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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October 2011

Finding a Way Home

Erin Imler

Preparing to assemble my new bed, I open the wordless instruction manual. The first page shows a picture of a single stick-figure standing there, hands on hips, and sadly regarding a bungled, not-put-together bed; the next image is two happy-looking stick-figures standing with their arms around each others’ shoulders, looking at a successfully constructed bed.
Despite the warning, I’m determined to do this by myself. For almost four years, I’ve slept on my couch, preferring it to my twenty-year-old mattress. Now that I’m starting a new job in a new city, it’s finally time for a new bed.
As I put it together, I can’t help but think back on my first real job as a family doctor–a post in rural northern California, working at a mobile clinic serving a predominantly homeless population.
I’d come there at age thirty, eager to experience real-life medicine outside of academia.

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Please For Tonight

Andrea Wendling

Please for tonight
Just be my wife
She is my life, my center,
She is what makes me whole
And I am finding I cannot exist
Without her

Smell like her
Like hayfields after a day of hard work
lavender and milk baths
Warm breezes blowing through still forests
All of this mixed with the soap
That we shared
That now too slowly disappears

Touch me like she would
Like I belonged to her
Slow, steady, without surprises
Know instinctively when I need to be calmed
And understand when I need 
Your lips, your touch
So desperately that I cannot
Live in this skin
Without you

Feel like she does
Strong and slight
Your skin rough in places
Melting into my touch in others
Pull away from my lips
Yet fill my mouth
Your cross brushing my chest
As you rise above me

Melt into me
Sighing softly
Never talking
And for that moment
Completely believe
That I will simply 
Always be the one

Please for tonight
Become my wife
And help me to feel again
That my life is complete.

About the poet:

Andrea Wendling is a rural family physician in northern Michigan. When not writing poetry,

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I started my third year of medical school as a surgery clerk.

With this eight-week clerkship came a flood of conflicting advice from older, wiser peers: “Ask a lot of questions, but speak only when spoken to.” “Offer to help, but stay out of the way.” “Be friendly and likeable, but not too friendly–or too likeable.” For the medical student, such is the mystique of the OR.

Three weeks into my general surgery rotation, I was helping my senior resident to see patients in the clinic and evaluate them for surgery. She grabbed the first chart off the day’s pile, knocked on the exam-room door and turned the handle, glancing at the chart before saying, “Hello, Mister–”

“Tran,” the patient finished.

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Small Talk

Greg Fuson

Turns out I’m anemic.

As in, I have anemia. When I mention this, true friends will retort, “Yeah, you’ve been anemic for as long as we’ve known you.” Ha ha. (Assholes.) That’s because a true friend is comfortable enough to make fun of you; it’s the always-polite ones you have to wonder about. But that’s not where I’m going with this.

Apparently anemia is rare in males, and when it occurs, doctors want to figure out why. You get a phone call from your physician (“I want to run some tests”), hang up, try to finish what you were working on, and discover that you can’t. That it was futile to even try. That hearing those particular words, spoken by that particular figure (no matter how calm and nonthreatening his tone), gets you thinking about a small truth that you’d much rather suppress: You are one day going to die. And it might be closer than you think.

In that frame of mind, what am I going to do, keep writing some banal report? And so I find myself, in the middle of what had been an otherwise

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