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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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April 2013

Now We Are Five

Paul Gross

“I’m glad that you’re the one calling me with this.”

John’s comment takes me aback. It’s an unexpected, almost tender, confession from a twenty-year-old young man whom I’ve called with some good news and some not-so-good news.

“The good news is that your HIV test is negative,” I tell him. “You do not have AIDS. But the not-so-good news is that you tested positive for chlamydia, another sexually transmitted infection.”

I want to give him a moment to let this sink in, but he jumps in anxiously: “Can you treat it?”

“Yes, we can treat it. It’s easy to treat. It’s curable.”

“And I’ll be okay?”

“Yes, you’ll be fine. Once we treat it, the infection will be gone.”

I hear the sigh of relief.

We discuss where he might have picked up this infection–not entirely clear–and to whom he might have passed it along, also unclear.

That’s when he offers up his comment: “I’m glad that you’re the one calling me with this.” Not quite a compliment, not quite an intimacy, and yet a little of both.

I’ve cared for John episodically since his teens. During this week’s visit, he discussed his recent, unsuccessful, attempt to support » Continue Reading.

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Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter

Cortney Davis


Thirty weeks,
and the baby’s not moving.

I listen to deep silence.
Then, the pregnant belly wakes.

From beneath the mountain,
thunder singing.


The final day of OB rotation
the medical student has a choice–
see the last patient of the day
or run to the coffee shop for a milkshake?

Milkshake wins!

What will I say when they ask me
was he dedicated?


“Why did you do this? Why did you order that?”

Full of indignation, the chief resident
attacks me

like the attending doctors
stormed at her only this morning.


There, on her cervix, a red spot
like a berry.

Today, I see her again,
shuffling her way to the bathroom
without her cancer.

She looks so much smaller.

About the poet:

Cortney Davis, a nurse practitioner, is the author of Leopold’s Maneuvers, winner of the 2003 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, and The Heart’s Truth: Essays on the Art of Nursing, winner of the 2010 American Journal

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Behind Closed Doors

Sophia Lee Ryan

I’d prepared as much as I could: I had a huge coffee, a water and every kind of snack imaginable stuffed into my bag. In my head I carried as much information about dilation and curettage as I’d been able to absorb during a study session at Starbucks the night before.

I was a third-year medical student doing my obstetrics and gynecology clerkship, and I was about to spend a day at the local family-planning clinic. The clinic offers support to women on all aspects of contraception, from education and counseling to providing various methods of birth control or carrying out terminations. I knew that this was their OR day, so I’d researched some of the cases that I would see: early pregnancy failure, repeated fetal deaths, second-trimester abortions for congenital anomalies.

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Unsuspected Symphony

Jeremiah Horrigan

No one goes to a hospital to heal. They go because they must–as I did three years ago, when a one-hour colonoscopy turned into a four-day surgical sleepover.

My grandfather had warned me long ago against hospitals. “You don’t want to go there,” he said. “That’s where the sick people are.” Pop died at the age of ninety-four, at home.

His warning came strongly to mind as I walked into the place that I’ve come to call HospitalWorld. Silently, I replied: Hospitals are where the sick people are, all right. They’re also where the doctor people are. I have no choice.

I was fifty-nine years old, and, after years of foot-dragging, this would be my first colonoscopy.

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