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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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November 2012

Code Blue

Stephen W. Leslie

I was startled awake at 3:40 am by a loudspeaker blaring “Code Blue…Code Blue.” 

As the hospital’s newly hired chaplain intern, I’d been sleeping in the overnight room. Stumbling out of bed and groggily changing out of my pajamas, I made sure to put on my hospital badge. 

I made my way to the hospital’s “Z” building, where the ICU was located, and took the elevator to the fourth floor. The elevator opened onto a row of doorways, each decorated with a red warning sign: “Stop! Do Not Enter. Authorized Staff Only.”

I picked one and went through. 

I’d guessed right: At the far end of a hallway, a group of gowned nurses swarmed around a woman lying in a hospital bed, her hospital robe trailing off to one side as they worked on her.

I approached the group, feeling a bit intimidated and uncertain of my role. 

“Sixteen minutes ago, her heart stopped,” someone told me. Moving closer to the patient, I saw that she was a short, slightly plump woman about sixty-five years old. With a shock of disbelief, I realized that she was one of the patients I’d talked to earlier that evening. I » Continue Reading.

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The One She Calls Milk

Amy Haddad

Is for pain but has a longer name
she can’t pronounce. It’s for when he shakes.
She is not sure if the shakes
mean pain since these days
he often cannot say.

Earlier when he could say,
he would mimic the circle faces
on the pain chart the nurses held up to him.
He would try on expressions
until he found one that fit his pain.
He would set his lips into a thin straight line
or deeply furrow his brow. “That one.
That’s how it feels,” he’d say
with just a small note of pride for
getting it right.

Now getting it right is her job.
She has to read his now strange body.
She walks the tightrope between calling
the doctor too often or letting him suffer.

When she finally breaks down
and dials the office, she repeats
the drug’s proper name like a charm
and dampens the desperation in her voice.
But when they answer
she misspeaks and blurts,
“I’m out of milk.”
Her fragile authority broken,

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Nothing to Hide

Kevin Dorsey

About thirty years ago, after I’d completed my internal medicine residency and a rheumatology fellowship, my wife and I moved with our three-year-old son to my wife’s hometown. 

There I joined a multispecialty group practice as the second rheumatologist. Over time, the plan was for me to build a rheumatology practice, but while that was happening I took on all kinds of patients, both primary-care and intensive-care. I felt very comfortable doing general internal medicine, and I also liked the intensity of ICU work. Handling the technology of medicine–ventilators, Swan-Ganz catheters, dialysis—made me feel knowledgeable and skilled. My older partners were glad to let me handle the ICU patients. I felt needed, and I liked it. 

A few years passed; we added a second son and became more and more a part of the community. 

One weekend, while covering for my partners, I went to the ER to admit a young man who needed to go to the ICU for apparent liver failure. The patient, Nate, a burly, round-faced man in his early thirties, was mentally confused (a side effect of advanced liver disease), so I got most of the story from his wife, a slender, soft-spoken, pleasant-looking

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Hurricane Sandy: Two Tales of One City: Part 2


Not Your Usual Halloween 

Alice Teich

Hey Manisha,

Last night–Halloween–I went and volunteered at a shelter in a school basement/gymnasium in the Nineties on the Upper West Side. 

There were more than 100 folks staying there, mostly evacuated from the Lower East Side. The shelter, run by the City, had some volunteers at the front desk, a few security people, a medical team that consisted of myself, one other doctor and a nurse (volunteers through the NYC Medical Reserve Corps–if you’re a provider, you can sign up online; it only takes fifteen minutes), and more than twenty awesome volunteers of all ages. 

It was a mess. 

Quite a few folks staying there were evacuated from flooded shelters–i.e., they were homeless even before the storm. 

Some of the older folks with chronic diseases, who’d normally have home attendants, are there without anybody (and without any ID, much less their medication lists or their medications). 

Only one guy had a home attendant. She got evacuated with him–very unhappily, as she is stuck away from her family and is not sure if she’s getting paid for this time. She thought

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Hurricane Sandy: Two Tales of One City

Editor’s Note: Hurricane Sandy hit New York, Pulse‘s home, on Monday, October 29. Eleven days later, many parts of our area are still limping toward recovery. Today we bring you two stories, rather than the usual one, about the hurricane’s impact. The first is by a medical student who was suddenly thrust closer to his newly adopted city. The second is an e-mail written to a colleague by a family physician who volunteered time in a City shelter.

New York Welcomes You 

Paul Lapis

Just three short months ago, I took my first steps into the medical world when I put on my white coat and began my first day as a student at the NYU School of Medicine.

A lifelong Californian, I’d always dreamed of coming to New York. I was delighted to know that I’d be spending my next four years in the city.

Despite my short time here, I can honestly say I love New York. This city has always stood as a symbol of everything I’ve come to value. I especially love the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of the people who live here–and,

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for the Ten Days

Madeleine Mysko

We say goodbye, her hand goes up (but not
in time to catch me), then the breach: I kiss
my mother on the cheek. Oops, I say,
you’d better wash your face. We laugh, of course–
that’s the better way to make it through
the chemotherapeutic calendar.
But it’s no joke. Her white cell count is low.
I see my mother back away from me.

I’m treacherous. I’ve not observed the Ten
Solemn Days of Abstinence. Oh what 
to do but put a finger to the lips, 
and teach the mouth never to kiss, never 
to take a breath, or utter Mother, while
stepping lightly past your door, O Death.

About the poet:

Madeleine Mysko is a registered nurse and a graduate of The Writing Seminars of the Johns Hopkins University. She serves as coordinator of the “Reflections” column for The American Journal of Nursing. Her novel Bringing Vincent Home is based on her experiences as an Army nurse stateside during the Vietnam War. Her poetry and fiction appear widely in literary journals, and her nonfiction has appeared in The Baltimore Sun and The American Journal of Nursing

About the poem:

“In the octave of this unrhymed Petrarchan sonnet, I confess

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