fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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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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January 2012


“Wake up, Eli,” I whisper, tapping his collarbone. “I need to re-check your blood pressure.”

“Aw, come on, doll,” he snickers. “A man can’t snore if he’s dead. Ain’t that good enough?”

“No, sir,” I reply. “I need numbers.”

It’s two a.m. I’m seven hours into a sixteen-hour shift in the emergency department of a busy city hospital, running five rooms in the “sick but stable” section with Dr. Watts.

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Sick and Tired

Paul Rousseau

“You told me you’re tired–tired of all the transfusions, and tired of being sick. Do you want to stop all the transfusions, Nancy?” I asked the woman lying in the hospital bed.

She was silent. Her husband of nineteen years, sitting nearby, was silent as well.

“What are you thinking, Nancy, can you tell me?” I asked.

Nancy, forty-eight, was suffering from chronic muscle inflammation, severe lung disease, pneumonia and–most severely–from terminal myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a blood and bone-marrow disease for which she had to receive transfusions of platelets and red blood cells every other day. 

Fed up with the transfusions, she’d asked to speak with the hospital’s palliative-care doctor–me–for help in rummaging through her various treatment options. In fact, these were limited to two: to continue the transfusions, or to stop. 

But without the transfusions, Nancy would likely die within a few days. 

I was finding it extremely difficult to counsel her. For one thing, she looked so alert and vibrant–not nearly as sick as she really was. The only overt evidence of disease was the bruising on her arms and

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Job Loss

Risa Denenberg

I’m no longer part of this operation.
I skulk back into hospital to hand over my name badge–
worn every workday for 12 years. Messy shame shines
on my face like spinach stuck between incisors.
It’s noon, people jam every hall, every sluggish line,
there are no smiles for me. I don’t want to meet the gaze
of anyone I know. 

I reflect upon peaceable Christmas shifts,
ham and mashed potatoes in the cafeteria, 3 AM.
Passing comrades in corridors, news matters
only to the extent it might toss a tragedy
onto our shore. Ours is no longer
the operative concept. 

Task done, on to another line to return my dog-eared
parking pass. Next stop, cashier, five dollar refund. 
Finally in my car, I lean out the window,
and hand the voucher to a parking attendant.
I am holding back tears now. Damn, I’ll miss this place.
Take care,
 he says. First kind words all day. 

About the poet:

Risa Denenberg is an aging hippie currently living in Tacoma, Washington. She earns her keep as a nurse practitioner and freelance medical writer. Recent poems with health-related

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Healing Words

Gretchen Winter

As a physician-in-training, I find joy in helping to ease pain and occasionally cure illness. But I often find my greatest sense of purpose in helping patients to heal emotionally, whether by allaying a patient’s fears, addressing a lingering concern or lending a listening ear.

Having majored in communications in college, I’d assumed that the patient-physician relationship would be the easy part of medicine. I’ve learned, though, that getting it right isn’t always easy.

An encounter with a patient named Mary Collins brought this lesson home to me. 

As a third-year medical student, just finishing the third week of my family medicine clerkship at a community health center, I was starting to feel competent at performing the basic history and exam. 

It was a Friday afternoon, and Ms. Collins was my last patient of the day. She was a timid-looking woman of forty-three, clad in loose jeans and a T-shirt.

Steadily, I worked through the requisite questions: “Do you have any chest pain?…Do you get blurry vision with your headaches?”

When Ms. Collins said that she had a buzzing noise in her ear, my mind began ticking off the possible diagnoses: presbycusis (age-related hearing loss); Meniere’s disease (an

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