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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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February 2013

A Reason to Stay

Ashish Massey

“Aren’t those decorations looking nice?” asks a soft voice beside me.

Startled, I turn to find a young woman wearing a red-and-white sari. Her head and face are swathed in the folds of the sari, leaving only the large red bindi on her forehead clearly visible.

We’re sitting on a grassy tuft amid a large campus green. All about us stand buildings with signs in both Hindi and English. Atop the central building waves an Indian flag, around which workers are hanging colorful garlands, tassels and lights.

“It looks very nice. What is it for?” I reply in Hindi, feeling that my accent must betray my American upbringing.

I am a fourth-year medical student. Two days ago I arrived here in New Delhi, after a sixteen-hour flight from New York City. Today I will begin a six-month fellowship working in pediatric oncology centers. It’s a chance to gain clinical experience working in places where resources are scarce–and it’s also a way to learn more about my ancestry and, in the process, about myself. My parents emigrated from India thirty-seven years ago, and my last visit was at age eight, nearly twenty-five years » Continue Reading.

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Around the Bend

Rachel Hadas

“You see, the world is coming to an end,”
she says. We’re on the porch; our rockers creak.
Tomorrow vanishes around a bend.

For fifty years she’s been a family friend
whom I should really visit once a week,
now that the world is coming to an end.

I reach out; put my hand over her hand.
We sit and for a moment do not speak.
A rapid shadow slides around the bend

beyond which I’m not keen to understand
what lies in wait. For her, though, every look
confirms the world is coming to an end,

as if we’re inchlings in a giant land-
scape, pulled helplessly toward some black
cavity where the road takes a sharp bend.

We rock. She sighs. Talk of the future: banned.
The past? That’s out too: obsolete, antique.
Marooned in now, she contemplates the end,
leaning a little into that last bend.

About the poet: 

Rachel Hadas is the Board of Governors professor of English at the Newark campus of Rutgers University, where she has taught for many years. Strange Relation: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia and Poetry (Paul Dry Books, 2011) and a poetry collection, The Golden Road (Northwestern University Press, 2012),

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The First Cut

Ralph B. Freidin

“Just cut through,” said Dr. Trotter, my anatomy professor.

I had read the instructions in her 1947 dissecting manual. My copy, purchased used, was preserved by stale formaldehyde and smudged with the tissues of past cadavers who’d guided earlier first-year medical students from anatomical landmark to anatomical landmark within the human body. 

The time: forty-six years ago. The day: my first day of medical school. 

The dissecting room was on the second floor of a building that had been new in 1927. The windows, opened to capacity, vainly invited in any breeze from the still St. Louis fall afternoon. The cinnamon aroma of dry sycamore leaves floated from the sidewalk to the windowsill before being repelled by the pungent embalming chemicals permeating the room.

Amid the sycamores’ sweetness and the acrid formaldehyde, eighty-eight medical students stood beside forty-four black slate dissecting blocks on which lay black rubber body bags, suffused with formaldehyde. They held the preserved cadavers–our Charons, preparing to guide us on our three-month journey across and through the landmarks of the body, from the land of the living to the land of the dead. From there, each of us would be on our own to

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Ben White

When I first met Florence in the ER, she’d already been dying for some time.

I was a third-year medical student doing my internal-medicine clerkship. Florence was a soft-spoken, tired woman in her sixties. To her, I was yet another face asking all the same questions, but she didn’t mind telling her story again–although she did stop in the middle to tell me, “You have beautiful eyes.” I paused to smile, then continued taking my history.

Florence was very overweight, diabetic, a mother to children who were somewhere far away, and a wife to a quiet, slender man with bags under his eyes. She and her husband both seemed less worried than I’d expected.

Only a month prior, Florence’s nagging cough had revealed itself to be a cancer that had taken up half of her chest and part of her brain. She’d never smoked a cigarette in her life.

She’d been briefly admitted to the hospital and then released. After she’d been home for two weeks, her husband had been awakened early one morning by their bed’s shaking: Florence was having a

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