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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January 2015

The Cancer Center

Nancy Tune

First impression: New and well appointed,
staffed by friendly people and my favorite, irony.
In the clinic hallway a woman plays a harp.
I have come to learn about the process of
my dying; surely this is meant to shake me
free of dread and make me laugh. It doesn’t, quite.

During treatment: I know where to go,
my focus straight ahead. Walkers,
wheelchairs, frightened people waiting in
the tasteful lobby. Down the stairs
I join a group of lonely people in a
silent prayer to gamma rays and science:
Please, some more time. Do not let us die, yet.

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Assaulted by “Health Care”

Sandra Shea

I’m no stranger to dealing with the medical world and its billing systems. I’m a triple cancer survivor, had knee surgery in 2012 and now have ulcerative colitis. All told, I’ve had eleven surgeries and fourteen colonoscopies. Paperwork is practically my middle name.

But the last twenty-four hours have been ridiculous.

In that time, I’ve had three different encounters with healthcare billing–each absurd in its own way, and each more challenging than the last. Things got to where I almost had to laugh. And if almost $10,000 of my money hadn’t been at stake, I would have.

Yesterday morning and early afternoon were punctuated by the following events:

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Ensign Medical Maze

Medical Maze


Josephine Ensign

About the artist: 

Josephine Ensign teaches health policy and narrative medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her literary non-fiction essays have appeared in The Sun, The Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Pulse, Silk Road, The Intima, The Examined Life Journal, Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine, and in the nonfiction anthology, I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse (Lee Gutkind, Ed.). She writes the health policy and nursing blog Medical Margins.

About the artwork:

“This photograph is of an endless hospital hallway in the University of Washington Medical Center Health Sciences Building, where I teach and where I ended up as an inpatient in 2000, partially paralyzed by acute transverse myelitis. Even after twenty years of working in the giant academic medical complex (6 million square feet or so), I still find the medical maze literally and figuratively disorienting. I take photographs to interact with and inform my writing.”

Visuals editor:

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Popping the Question

Mitch Kaminski

Mr. Dwyer isn’t my patient, but today I’m covering for my partner in our family-practice office, so he’s been slipped into my schedule.

Reading his chart, I have an ominous feeling that this visit won’t be simple.

A tall, lanky man with an air of quiet dignity, Mr. Dwyer is eighty-eight. His legs are swollen, and merely talking makes him short of breath.

He suffers from both congestive heart failure and renal failure. It’s a medical catch-22: when one condition is treated and gets better, the other condition gets worse. His past year has been an endless cycle of medication adjustments carried out by dueling specialists and punctuated by emergency-room visits and hospitalizations.

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Community Medicine

Kendra Fleagle Gorlitsky

Are you going to take that long with all the patients?
   Depends. If they’re really sick, I’ll have to.
I’m just saying…there are a lot waiting.
   Well, this one tried to kill herself last year. And today she’s really hurting.

I wanted a full physical, and I heard this is just a check-up, but I’ve been waiting over two hours!
   Could you put this gown on, please. What are you worried about?
I can’t find work that doesn’t make me lift, but I can’t lift.
   Can you swim?
Never learned.
   What was your favorite job?

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LhommeBlessesSelfPortrait 1992 Gallo

L’Homme Blessé (Self-Portrait)

Peter Gallo

About the artist: 

Peter Gallo is an artist and writer based in Vermont. He has a PhD in art history and has worked as a psychiatric social worker for many years. His work is collected internationally; he is represented by Anthony Reynolds Gallery in London and by Zieher, Smith & Horton in New York City, where his work is currently appearing in a show entitled “Take Back Vermont.”

About the artwork:

“L’Homme Blessé” (Self-Portrait): Oil on printed linen on wood frame, 46.9 x 57.1 cm

“L’Homme Blessé” (The Wounded Man) is the title of a self-portrait by Gustave Courbet. Painted between 1844 and 1854, it was part of a cycle of self-portraits by the artist, who was still a young man. I became fascinated with these paintings during the time of my doctoral dissertation, while exploring the impact of clinical science on artistic experience since the eighteenth century. What strikes me about this cycle of

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I’m Happy

Raymond Abbott

On my voice mail is a message from Donald Wyatt. He doesn’t often call, but every Monday morning he comes to see me at the Louisville, Kentucky, mental-health clinic where I’m a social worker.

His message is brief: “I’m not feeling well, and I am planning a trip to either St. Louis or Elizabethtown.”

I smile, wondering at the odd pairing. Elizabethtown is a small city of 50,000 people. And, well, St. Louis is St. Louis, a metropolis.

This behavior is not unusual for Donald. He’s disappeared before, always out of state and by bus. He doesn’t have the money to travel any other way, although once he took his parents’ van and drove to Ohio. (He has no driver’s license.) Never before, however, has he called beforehand.

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