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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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March 2013

My Friend the Scholar Comes at Last to Attend His Father

Norbert Hirschhorn

He considered the wasted moult of a once
large, ferocious creature: mouth agape,
muscles twitching with every rattled breath.

Agapé–my friend the scholar marveled
at the homograph, and the thing that feasted
on his father. He laid a futon at the foot

of the high white bed, some books, a laptop,
a thermos. Nearby, an emesis basin,
dentures, bedpan, glass half-full of beaded water.

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The Story of Pulse

One Monday morning, a number of years ago, the administrators at the family health center where I used to work instituted a new and time-consuming procedure for registering patients. They did this in an attempt to satisfy the rules and requirements imposed by the many different insurance plans our center accepted.

There was just one problem: the administrators forgot to tell anyone what they’d done–not even the center’s medical director, who happened to be on vacation at the time.

As the clerical staff stumbled over a brand-new, complex set of protocols that day, a line of patients, mostly poor, snaked around the lobby, out the front door onto the sidewalk. Tempers grew short. A fight nearly broke out. We providers sat in the back twiddling our thumbs, waiting for patients to trickle into the exam rooms.

Finally, after an hour-and-a-half, enough patients had been registered so that the line could finally fit inside the lobby. The exam rooms were all filled, and the doctors and nurses were desperately trying to make up for lost time.

At that moment, the health center fire alarm went off–signaling one of our periodic fire drills.

Needless to say, it couldn’t have happened at a

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Paul Rousseau

“I want everything done. Please, Dr. Rousseau, do everything. We have two children–they can’t be without their father. Do you understand? Do what it takes to keep him alive!”

Angie, a petite woman with long blonde hair, fixes me with piercing blue eyes. Her husband, Joe, fifty-two, has scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. In its most devastating form, it hardens the skin and destroys the kidneys, heart and lungs.

Joe is dying of sepsis and multi-organ failure in my hospital’s intensive-care unit.

“Please, do whatever it takes to keep him alive,” Angie pleads.

Suddenly, I am thrust into the depths of grief. Not hers, mine. It happens just like that–no warning, no nothing, just a painful inner quivering and the trickle of tears.

“I want everything done,” Angie repeats. Then she stops and stares at me. Her eyes look down at the table, then up at me again.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“I didn’t mean to make you cry,” she says softly.

“You didn’t. It’s okay. But let’s talk about your husband.”

“What’s the matter?” she asks.

Suddenly it’s I

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Desperately Seeking Herb Weinman

Steven Lewis

Minor chest pains that woke me early one morning–and which did not go away three, four, five, six hours later–landed me flat on my back at a local emergency room, a perversely comforting beep beep beep issuing from the monitor hanging precariously over my head.

Frankly, I didn’t really think that I was having a heart attack–as a former EMT, a devoted watcher of medical television, and a cultural cousin of Woody Allen, I’m ridiculously well versed in the symptoms of a myocardial infarction. However, after I’d endured a morning of chest pains at an age where all warranties have lapsed, it was prudent to go to the hospital. And since my wife was out of town–and my grown kids off with their kids–I drove myself over to the ER.

Once the wraparound curtain was pulled to protect my flimsy privacy and the EKG was recording electrical impulses in my thumping heart, I already felt a little better. And yet I had never felt more alone in my life. So alone that every time a nurse or med-tech appeared I tried squeezing megabytes of information into those swishing curtains of opportunity. I let each of them

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Palliative Care

Stacy Nigliazzo

When I cut the stem
I knew it was just a matter of time.

I cleared the sill
and filled a crystal vase.

The petals unfurled.
The smell of summer pierced my skin

for three days.
When the first leaf fell

I added lemon pulp and crushed
an aspirin;

cut away all that waned–
the shoots were spry

one last day.
I scattered them over green earth.

Flecks of pollen
stained my lips and cheekbones.

About the poet:

Stacy Nigliazzo is an ER nurse. Her poems have appeared in Pulse, JAMA, Bellevue Literary Review and the Cancer Poetry Project (second edition), and an upcoming book of her poetry will be published this fall by Press 53 (North Carolina). She is a graduate of Texas A&M University and a recipient of the Elsevier Award for Nursing Excellence.

About the poem:

“I was arranging a vase of Stargazer lilies when it occurred to me that they began the process of dying as soon as they were

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Audrey Cortez

Years ago I worked as a registered nurse in a busy surgical pre-admission clinic, preparing patients who’d been scheduled for surgery for the upcoming operation and hospital experience.

My workdays were packed with back-to-back, hour-long appointments. Whatever surgery the patient was facing–oral, orthopedic or anything else–every interview followed the same format. I would greet the patient, who’d often bring along a family member, and quickly escort them both into my small office, seating them in the stiff, outdated plastic chairs facing my desk. On the way, trying to save time, I would explain that as part of the pre-admission process I’d need to do a health interview and a physical assessment, get an accurate list of the patient’s medications, labs, X-rays, EKG results, etc., and also tell the patient various details related to the pending surgery and hospital stay. In that same hour, I also had to chart all that I’d done and make a chart for the day of surgery.

I tried hard to keep the interviews running on time while also keeping the atmosphere warm and friendly. Overall, I felt successful at striking this balance, except when I encountered my biggest challenge:

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