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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July 2015


Ronna L. Edelstein

For years, and especially as he entered his nineties, my father kept begging me not to “dump” him into a nursing home. He had seen too many of his cronies abandoned in this way by family members; his visits with these friends left him feeling depressed and hopeless for days. I assured Dad that I’d never put him in a facility.

It was an easy promise to make. I didn’t want him in a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest setting with a Nurse Ratched supervising his care. I didn’t want him waking up at night disoriented and lonely. Because he was inching closer to death, the greatest unknown, I didn’t want a facility, with all of its unknowns, to replace his familiar apartment, which I’d been sharing with him for more than a decade.

But in spring of last year, six weeks after Dad turned ninety-eight, I broke my promise.

Homecoming Read More »

Last Stand

E. Wesley Ely

The first time I saw Jessa, she lay crumpled in the ICU bed, paralyzed, expressionless and unable to speak. A military veteran, she had fought in Desert Storm, but she now was facing a deadlier and more inexorable foe: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), aka Lou Gehrig’s disease.

This disease causes progressive loss of muscle control, and Jessa was unable to speak, eat or breathe on her own. Her only means of communicating was through small facial movements–opening and closing her eyes or mouth, raising her eyebrows.

A dozen people made up her ICU team: three interns, three residents, a pharmacist, a nurse, a respiratory therapist, a social worker, a hospital chaplain and myself–the lead physician, or intensivist.

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Singing Overcome Masur

Singing Overcome

Milton Masur

About the artist: 

“I’m a retired physician enlarging my life with art. After years of sculpting and painting, I began to combine them by adding collage elements: I paint figurative bas-reliefs with impressionistic technique and an occasional bow to abstraction. My favorite subjects are scenes from nature and human portraits. I’ve been influenced by more artists than I can name. My years as a physician bend my perception towards a humanistic ethos.”

About the artwork:

“This painting was made from photos which were in the public domain and has the appeal of camaraderie while seeking justice and community. While this image makes no direct reference to medical care, I think that our humanistic medical calling is inspired by recognition and support of justice and fairness towards all.”

Visual Editor:

Justin Sanders

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If it isn’t written in the chart, it didn’t happen

Christine Higgins

The doctor covers my mother’s hand

with his own hand. Her hand is

a speckled egg he is keeping warm.

The nursing assistant reaches out

to touch the yellow roses,

and murmurs, “Bonito.”

Several people come in and speak

cheerily to the bedcovers and the curtains,

but not to my mother,

who no longer makes eye contact.

If it isn’t written in the chart, it didn’t happen Read More »

Birth of a Hospice Nurse

Sara Conkle

The woman lying on the transport cot in the examination room was terrified. I could see it plainly in her eyes, but there was no time to stop and comfort her.

I was a young, recently graduated nurse in a busy urban emergency room, struggling to keep up with its daily array of shootings, stabbings and crises. ER nurses hustled. We dealt with life and death, and we did it quickly. That may be why I paid so little attention to the pain and fear in the woman”s eyes.

I asked her to get onto the examination table and duly recorded the facts: her last menstrual period had taken place several months before; her bleeding and cramping had started earlier this evening.

Tossing her a gown, I told her to put it on and get back onto the cot so that she could rest until the doctor could come and examine her. Then I left, forgetting about her the moment the door closed behind me.

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Cancer2 Reckrey

Bruised or Blessed?

Patricia Reckrey

About the artist: 

Since childhood, Patricia Reckrey has used writing poetry and drawing as ways to process the mysteries and small miracles in her life. When her husband Fred developed cancer she used these same tools to make her way through this difficult journey. Patricia and Fred have a daughter, Dr. Jennifer Reckrey, who was one of the early contributors to Pulse.

About the artwork:

“Earlier this year my husband died of metastatic prostate cancer after a two-year journey with the disease. During this time I made a series of drawings depicting both the persistence of these crazy cancer cells and the moments of healing and peace that our family experienced as he was treated for the disease. I used quotations from others to focus my art on specific issues related to cancer.”

Cancer is messy and

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No Crying

Riddhi Shah

“There’s no crying in baseball!”

Over the years, my fellow surgery residents and I heard these words shouted countless times by Dr. Norris, a cantankerous elderly surgeon with whom we had the dubious pleasure of working.

Dr. Norris was a former Navy ship surgeon. He didn’t operate much anymore, but he fondly remembered the “good old days” when trainees spent days on end in the hospital. The phrase emerged whenever he felt a need to remind us that medicine was a grueling pursuit with no room for weakness, perceived or actual.

I don’t know if his remark was a thinly veiled sexist jab or merely an allusion to the movie A League of Their Own, but it stopped mattering once I realized that medicine was much more than an endurance game. Nonetheless, five years later, as I pursue my work as a wound specialist in nursing homes, I sometimes still hear Dr. Norris’s voice in my mind.

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