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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November 2013

Be Lucky

Kenneth Zeitler

In 1996, visiting a mall during an out-of-town trip, I suddenly felt dizzy while descending on the escalator. The sensation rapidly resolved, but to be on the safe side, I went to a local emergency room. My evaluation included a CT scan of my head; the results, I was told, were “normal.”

Shortly after returning home I received another call. The CT results were not normal, and I should see a neurologist to have an MRI scan.

I panicked, as anyone would, but I had more reason than most: I’m a medical oncologist. I knew the implications of this news, and they were mostly quite dire.

The MRI revealed a brain tumor, likely “low grade.” I found this a bit reassuring–but still, it was a tumor in my head! And its specific nature was unclear.

I felt tremendous sadness and fear for my family and for all that I would miss. I was only forty-six. My son was to enter Northwestern University in the fall, and my daughter was a junior in high school; their lives were just beginning. My wife would be a young widow.

After consulting with my physicians, I decided on watchful waiting, with monthly » Continue Reading.

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Wong Premature med


Daniel Wong

About the artist: 

Daniel Wong is a recent Stanford graduate with plans to attend medical school. He is interested in the creative bond between art and medicine and the power of artistic expression to foster healing. Daniel finds art to be a unique method of human communication and finds visual arts a fascinating means of forming deep psychological connections with others. He works primarily in oils. More of his work can be found at

About the artwork:

“When I was in the womb, my mother’s OB-GYN looked at the ultrasound and congratulated her: it was a girl! Though he realized his error later, I often wonder about my mother’s thought processes when she learned that information, how she mentally prepared herself for a girl and how that changed when the doctor’s ‘diagnosis’ did. Every word a doctor utters is translated into a unique meaning by the patient, who is constantly seeking information. This piece is also about a referred memory: though I wasn’t conscious when it was created, the story informs my overall narrative. Who does this memory belong to?”

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Supersize Me

Edward Thompson

Donald is large. Very large.

At more than 600 pounds, he is a mountain of flesh with a small opening at the top through which he speaks.

“My stomach hurts,” he says, his voice surprisingly high and childlike.

It is 10:00 pm in the emergency room, and I am already swamped with patients I’m trying to move through the ER before my shift is over.

Asked if he’s ever felt this kind of pain before, Donald says, “No, never. At least, not like this.”

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Tears Should Be Surprising

Wynne Morrison 

Tears should be surprising.

He is, after all, well over six feet tall,
must top 250 pounds,
always quick and confident
with a joke upon his lips.

Most of his patients weigh a pound or two.
Eyes fused shut, translucent skin,
with lives of needles, tubes,
machines and probing hands.
On this week there are too many
who will never have a chance.

Chocolate, silence, and he hauls
himself up from the office couch.
“At least I can still cry,” he says
and turns back up the stairs to work.

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Mary Shannon La Jolla

Lone Tree

Mary T. Shannon

About the artist: 

I am a psychotherapist who specializes in using story and art as adjunctive treatment tools. Having used both of these tools in my own healing process, I am better able to guide others in doing the same. Additional visual art, as well as essays and academic journal articles on narrative medicine can be found on

About the artwork:

My husband and I solemnly walked by this scene the day before his surgery, silently holding hands. The surgery was risky, and we both knew he might not survive. I wondered if I would soon be like this tree, standing alone, and how I would survive on my own. A month later we walked by the tree again, silently holding hands. Only this time we were smiling.

Visuals editor:

Justin Sanders


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Linda Koebner 

“Her vitals are fine,” the nurse told Besarta’s mother during a rare visit to the family’s basement apartment in the Bronx.

Besarta’s mind is also fine–sharp and clear. She asked me to use her real name in this story.

Her twenty-five-year-old face is beautiful and flawless, despite the howls of frustration, rage and pain she directs at her family, at fate and especially at Friedreich’s ataxia, the disease that controls her.

When I come for our weekly visit, Besarta’s blue-green eyes smile at me from where she sits in her wheelchair. Then her head suddenly wobbles sideways. Her face smashes against the chair’s headrest–first the right side, then the left.

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After the Flood: Remembering Sandy

Lois Isaksen

Oct. 29, 2012

We’d just received word: within hours, Hurricane Sandy would hit New York City. As an emergency-medicine resident at NYU/Bellevue Hospital Center, I was working as fast as I could–examining patients, suturing wounds, setting bones, running families to the hospital pharmacy before it closed.

The lights flickered once, but I did not take it as the omen it was.

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Tlingit Aspirin - Elaine Whitman

Tlingit Aspirin


Elaine Whitman

About the artist: 

Elaine has been taking photographs since she was nine years old when her father, an internist and talented amateur photographer, gave her a Brownie box camera. She has worked her way through many cameras since that time and now relies on a pocket-sized Canon “point-and-shoot” and a Nikon D7000. (This image was taken with the Nikon.) In addition to her passion for photography, Elaine is also a music volunteer for hospice, where she plays her Native American flute for patients and their families.

About the artwork:

“On the eighth anniversary of my diagnosis of stage IIb breast cancer, and on our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, my husband Neal and I celebrated my remission and our marriage with a cruise up Alaska’s Inside Passage.  In Juneau, hiking on the Trail of Time, our guide pointed out devil’s club, whose leaves can grow as large as dinner plates. Devil’s club is used medicinally and ceremonially by the Tlingit people of southeast Alaska, who refer to it as ‘Tlingit aspirin’.”

Visuals editor:

Justin Sanders

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