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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April 2012

Catching Chickens

Daniel Klawitter

Morphine doesn’t do much for dementia.

I know this because my grandmother

was trying to catch an imaginary chicken 

on her deathbed.

Wanting to calm her fevered thrashing, 

my sister cleverly said: “It’s okay grandma.

I caught the chicken for you.

You can rest now.”

But my grandmother’s faded blue eyes 

suddenly sprang wide open, and fixing my surprised 

sister with a stern and lucid glare, declared:

“No you did NOT!”

And I’m still uncertain which came first: 

our nervous laughter or the shock of her clarity, 

so unexpected, we almost died.

I guess we all have to catch our own chickens,

before we cross the road and reach that other side.

About the poet:

Daniel Klawitter is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church and lives in Denver, CO, with his wife and three cats. He has a BA in Religion Studies from the College of Santa Fe, NM, and a Master of Divinity degree from Iliff School of Theology, in Denver. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Sacramental LifeBlue Collar ReviewCyclamens and SwordsThe Penwood Review and » Continue Reading.

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George Saj

It happened one wintry night in 1965. I was in my third year of medical school during a rotation on the pulmonary service.

My supervising intern had been busy all evening admitting a dozen people in various stages of respiratory distress; they were suffering from ailments ranging from flu to double pneumonia.

It was my job to collect each patient’s sputum and culture it on a Petri dish, which would take several days to grow out. I also prepared stained slides of each sample. We did this in hopes of being able to visually identify the offending bacteria, so that we could speedily administer the appropriate antibiotic.

This was painstaking work: the intern and I had to repeatedly re-check the patients who weren’t improving. Every few hours, we’d return to listen to their chests, assessing the progression of their pneumonia. Then we’d check our findings against X-ray pictures, adjust their antibiotics, collect and look at their sputum specimens again, and wait for them to get better.

Slowly, most did. But I found the testing and re-testing tedious and unsatisfactory, as its results were incremental, subjective, often subtle and hard to measure.


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What is Pulse?

Every Friday, Pulse–voices from the heart of medicine publishes and distributes a first-person story or poem, together with a visual image or haiku, about health care.

Launched in 2008, Pulse was created by members of the Department of Family and Social Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in collaboration with colleagues and friends around the country.

At a time when the pioneering work of Rita Charon has established the value of narrative medicine–an approach that places a premium on personal perspectives within a healthcare encounter–Pulse makes narrative medicine available to all and accessible to anyone.

Pulse tells the story of health care through the personal experiences of those who live it–patients, health professionals, students and caregivers. While medical care is often rightly criticized for being cold and oblivious, Pulse highlights the humanity and vulnerability of all its actors. In doing so it promotes the humanistic practice of medicine and encourages advocacy for compassionate health care for all.

Since its launch, Pulse has drawn the attention of the national media and policymakers. Widely used by medical educators to promote humanism and professionalism, Pulse enjoys a broad readership drawn to its diverse voices, compelling writing and authenticity.

Pulse welcomes

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You Don’t Have to Put Your Teeth in for Me

Karen Peacock

He pulled the covers over his shedding skin,
Put a napkin over his phlegm-filled cup
Turned the volume down on the TV
And up in his ear,
Cleared his throat through the foggy mask,
Tipped the seat down to his bedside commode
As he reached for his teeth,
And I said, You don’t have to put your teeth in for me.

About the poet:

Karen Peacock is a board-certified art therapist working on the palliative care unit at the Memphis VA Medical Center. She received her master’s in art therapy from Pratt Institute in 2008.

About the poem:

“This poem was inspired by an experience I had with a patient on the palliative care unit. He seemed to be burdened by the need to present himself in a certain way to me when I entered the room. I wanted to relieve him of this burden and allow him to be as comfortable as possible.”

Poetry editors:

Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro


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