fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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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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August 2013

A Second Chance

Mitch Kaminski

My patient Maria sits before me, looking vaguely distressed.

She’s returned for a follow-up visit, six weeks after our first. The morning is half over, and I’m clipping along, staying on time, using the new electronic medical record system (EMR) without a glitch and with a sense of satisfaction. Three months back, when I joined this small-town practice as part of my new position as a health-system medical director, I found the EMR challenging, so I’m pleased that I’ve finally mastered it.

Maria’s face looks familiar–pretty, but with a worried look that matches her hastily applied makeup. 

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Soul Searching

Brian T. Maurer

Ply the scalpel, crack the vault;
Peel back the layers, parcel the salt:
Galeal, subgaleal, arachnoid place,
Dura mater, subdural space,
Lobus frontalis, sulcus centralis,
Corpus callosum, fornix, and rostrum,
Hippocampus, choroid plexus,
(Anatomy most sure to vex us)
Ventricles: first, second, third,
Cerebellum, stem and cord.

When we’ve exhausted the entire onion,
Tell me, what’s become of someone?


About the poet:

Brian T. Maurer has practiced pediatric medicine as a physician assistant for the past three decades. As a clinician, he has always gravitated toward the humane aspect of patient care, and for two decades he has explored the illness narrative as a tool to cultivate an appreciation for humane medical care. He has published numerous vignettes, editorials and essays in national and international journals, as well as two books, Patients Are a Virtue and Village Voices. He blogs online at

About the poem:

“Freud wrote that wherever he ventured in his scientific investigations of the mind, he found that a poet had been there first. Modern neuroscience continues to struggle to define the human mind by studying anatomical brain function. It occurred to me

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In Sickness and in Health

Larry Zaroff

Four months after having a knee replacement, I stumbled into the bathroom at three AM, not fully awake, hoping to urinate.

Losing my balance, I fell. The result was a compound fracture of my left leg–the one with the prosthetic knee. 

Gazing at my shiny white kneecap, I lost all logic, all control. I simply cried. 

At eighty, I was unprepared for this unexpected anatomy lesson: my twenty-nine years as a surgeon had simply not prepared me for viewing the inside of my own knee. 

It felt like my life was over. 

Fortunately my wife, Carolyn, a painter, four years younger than I, and without any orthopedic experience, took one look, said little, but acted.

She wrapped my naked bones in a clean towel and drove me to the emergency room. I had urgent surgery, with removal of the prosthesis, followed by a post-op period with no internal knee, organic or inorganic. Thus began my one-legged life, and what I now think of as Carolyn’s pre-widowhood.

After my discharge, because of the contaminated wound, I began four weeks of at-home intravenous antibiotics, then two weeks’ waiting to be certain there was no residual infection before I could be

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Bitter Medicine

Karen Libertoff Harrington

As a medical educator in a hospital setting, I often tell first-year medical students about disparities in health care and about the vastly different quality of care that hospitals deliver, depending on their resources. 

I tell my students how important it is to advocate for patients, to learn to navigate the healthcare system and to work respectfully with health professionals in order to get optimal care for your patients.

When my own son was hospitalized, I had an opportunity to put my teachings into practice, and found them wanting.

It was a Thursday evening in early spring, the first hint of green emerging on the lawn of my suburban Connecticut home. 

My son David called from Manhattan to say that he had a job interview the next day; he was going for a run before settling down to prepare. 

I sat on the deck, taking in the twilight and feeling hopeful about the future.

Five hours later, my husband Leo and I were hurrying to a Manhattan emergency room. The police had found David beaten and bleeding in Riverside Park. The park had seen more gang activity lately, and

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Escape from Chemo

Ellen Diamond

And while the stuff drips in, I’m rolling over
in my mind the two words: Kemo Sabe.

It’s the name that Tonto called his friend
the Lone Ranger, back in radio days.

I could use a trusty sidekick now,
crouched behind the white screen near the door,

ready in an instant to unsheathe
his blade, then back us slowly to the window.

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