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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 2012

Father and Sons

Kathleen Crowley

It was early November–the sky a sharp, deep blue that only comes at that time of year–and my primary-care clinic in the heart of the city was booked full with bronchitis and early flu. The TV in the corner was tuned to CNN. Children bounced around in boredom, chatting away in an assortment of languages–Haitian and Portuguese creole, Spanish, English. 

My last patient of the morning was Jack, a man I’d been seeing for the past few years. He was a middle-aged guy–almost the same age as I was, in fact. I found him sitting quietly in the examining room, reading glasses on and newspaper in hand, wearing a jacket with his employer’s logo on the front. 

Unlike most of the people in the waiting room, Jack was feeling well. He was only here to follow up on the usual suspects–diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, weight struggles. When I checked his blood pressure, though, it was way out of control.

“That’s strange,” I said, looking through his records. “Your pressure is usually pretty good. Have you missed your medications at all in the last few days?”

“No. I take them every day. Might just be”–he took his glasses off and » Continue Reading.

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Fleeing Alzheimer’s

Sandra Miller

My left hand is an idiot.
I don’t think it can save me.

Deep in my brain, the old twine of brittle DNA,
the sparks of my memory and blasted circuits,
fizz and fray.
The spiral staircase twists, leading nowhere.

They say learn something new
so I rouse the dormant piano and try to
find the stretch, learn the reach
but my left hand bangs out sour notes and
my right hand, my anchor, derails in dismay.

She haunts me, she follows me, she plucks at my sleeve …
I won’t turn and look 
at her chickadee eyes and empty-gourd head,
fumbling at spoons, hair gone askew.
I grasp my loose button, twirling on one thread,
wobbly and worthless.
It’s nearly gone.

Over and over I drill the arpeggio but
my left hand is an idiot.
I don’t think it can save me.

She’s coming.

About the poet:

Sandra Miller has been a faculty member at Banner Good Samaritan Family Medicine Residency for nearly twenty-five years and is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “My college

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Telling Nick

Marianne Lonsdale

“What’s going to happen to Catie when she grows up?”

I was driving with my son, Nick, to the store when he asked this about his fifteen-year-old cousin, Catie. Nick, age eight, had just spent his spring break at Catie’s home. Blind, she was now losing her ability to talk, but she always recognized Nick’s voice. She adored having him by her side; whenever Nick walked into the room, her face lit up, and she raised her arms for hugs. She was the closest Nick was going to get to having a sibling.

“Will she get a job?” he piped up from the backseat. “Or will someone still have to take care of her?”

Small for his age, Nick was just about big enough to stop using a booster seat, but still young enough to be afraid that monsters in the closet were real. 

I’d been wrestling with when to tell him more about Catie. Now, here came this question from out of the blue. 

“Her mom and dad will always take care of her,” I said. My first instinct was to

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Beyond Reason

Kathy Speas

Visiting the dementia unit of a nursing home is never easy.

First off, you have to find your patient amid the assemblage of people–mostly women–seated in wheelchairs, recliners, wingbacks, sofas and assorted walkers, or wandering around. 

Then, you must make yourself known to the person you’ve found. Here’s where the harder questions arise: How can I introduce myself and convey my role–a hospice chaplain–to someone who has outlasted language? Is my state of mind so calm and engaged that my very being will exude peace and generate trust? Am I totally present, or is my mind bouncing back and forth between tomorrow and yesterday? And just what does it mean, as a hospice chaplain, to provide spiritual support to someone at the end of life?

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