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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 2012

No Red Lights

Loreen Herwaldt

As far back as I can remember, I’ve deliberately spent my life on the high road. I was the seventh-grader who was told by adults that she was very serious. I was the college student who majored in chemistry because it was the strongest premed major. I became a doctor.

Before becoming a doctor, I imagined that I would be the epitome of compassion. I envisioned pausing for a moment before I saw each patient to pray for that person and to ask for wisdom. During my last two years of medical school, I enjoyed hanging out with my patients, just listening to their stories. I was the one who made a special trip to buy a book that I thought might encourage a patient. I was the one who sat by a women wrapped in the pain of metastatic malignant melanoma as she moaned, “They shoot sick dogs, don’t they? Why can’t they do that for sick people too?”

During the first month of my internship at St. Louis’s Barnes Hospital, when I was on call every other night in » Continue Reading.

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Five Years Later

Steve Lewis

Evenings in the Sloan-Kettering ICU were starkly lit–nowhere to hide from the glare, bloodshot eyes trained on blinking lights, buzzing machines, masked men and women passing soundlessly through sliding glass doors, and little but hours and hours of bright, eerie luminosity ahead.

By contrast, the days then were dark. No comfort to be found in the sunrise or in that old salve about everything looking better in the morning. My wife and kids and I sat on the edge of uncomfortable couches in dimly lit waiting rooms where the waiting was always either too long or never long enough; we stood shoulder to shoulder in airless elevators with strangers sharing the same muted despair; we sat huddled in the cafeteria and did not eat.

When I was alone I paced the circular halls of that cancer-riddled sixteen-story building, cloaked in green gowns and latex gloves. My beard was always wet with acidic breath behind the paper mask. I slathered my hands in Purell every time I made a move, because it seemed as if germs were the only thing left in my life I could control. Because practically everything I’d once assumed to be true was now a

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For Dr. WCW

Randall Weingarten

Williams brought over a bag of plums,
A tree of white blossoms,
A locomotive 
And images of
Her threadbare ankles

I’ve loved his poems
The pages are all 
Dog-eared now,
Or smiling

I know this woman
Sitting at the window
The child on her lap
The tears on her face

And that old woman 
With her bag of plums
So sweet, so tasty

I know that attic of despair
The hooks of her gown
The whisper of 
Silk and cotton
Falling to the floor
Her veined body emerging
From the tangles 

How I have labored
With him
On those dark nights
In Paterson
The women crying out
For dear life
And the men 
Tweedling in their outer rooms 

How I have cherished
Those white chickens 
And the words flung in 
The wheel tracks
On his way home 

About the poet: 

Randall Weingarten went to Dartmouth College and Tufts Medical School and did his psychiatry residency at Stanford University. “My life has revolved around clinical practice and medical education. I have been a longtime practitioner ofchanoyu, the Japanese ceremony for offering

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Emergency Landing

Shumon Dhar

In the summer of my first year of college, I did an internship as a nursing attendant in a rehab hospital’s stroke unit.

As a premed student, I had little idea of what it meant to be a physician. But that didn’t stop me from feeling slightly superior to others who weren’t on the same path. Although I didn’t know how to take someone’s blood pressure, I often treated friends to detailed descriptions of the biochemistry of complex metabolic diseases.

My summer job took me totally out of this academic comfort zone. 

I found myself washing, dressing and caring for the most debilitated people imaginable–unable to walk and suffering from cognitive impairment and, often, incontinence. Throughout the day, the halls echoed with their moans of pain.

Every morning, it was my job to wash, dress and transport several of them to the dining room before breakfast. The work didn’t come naturally to me. Long-haired, underweight and completely unused to manual labor, I was quickly labeled a burden by the nurses.

To counteract this humiliating reality, I tried every minute to project an

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