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 2017

trapped in a stoma3

Trapped Within My Stoma

Kimberlee Norwood

About the artist: 

“I am a medical educator with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. From January to March 2014, I was hospitalized five times for ulcerative colitis. My doctor finally said, “I have to take you to surgery now, or you’ll die. In fact, I don’t know why you’re not already dead.” I was whisked off to surgery to remove my colon, and I awoke with a stoma (ileostomy). 

About the artwork:

“Several months after my operation, a friend and I were playing around and took a picture of me through a red Solo cup koozie. This is the result. When I saw it, my immediate reaction was, “There I am! Trapped in my stoma.” This image captures how I felt for months following the removal of my colon.”

Visuals editor:

Justin Sanders

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Doe Eyes

Andrea Gordon

She burst into tears when I asked if she wanted to get pregnant.

Eman, a beautiful young woman from Jordan, sat in my family-practice office with her husband, Ali, and two adorable children about one and two years old. With her scarf and dark clothing covering all but her pale face and enormous sable-brown eyes, Eman looked closer to fourteen than twenty-four, and scarcely old enough to have any children.

“How can I help you?” I started.

“We wish to remove her IUD, so we can have another baby,” Ali answered.

I don’t think he expected me to address Eman directly.

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If Only

Beatrice Leverett

When I first met Jason, I was a third-year medical student halfway through my psychiatry rotation, and he was a newly admitted patient halfway through a nasty comedown from crystal meth.

He sat slumped in his chair, scowling, his face hidden by a baseball cap and black hooded sweatshirt, growling responses to my interview questions.

“Why do I have to do this? I hate this crap. I’ve answered these bullshit questions a million times. I’ve been in the psych ward a million times, and it’s never done anything for me.”

Reading his records, I realized that “a million times” wasn’t such an exaggeration. At only twenty-five, he’d been admitted to most of the local psychiatric hospitals. For several years, he hadn’t been out of the hospital more than a few months at a time.

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Medical School

We came to the one place I knew you dreaded.
 As joyful as you sounded when you called me at work after you plucked the envelope – a big envelope this time – from our mailbox, I knew our happiness lay in the expectation that other oversized bundles would follow. For it to truly be our happiness, our dream, we would need to rejoice at this triumph, then file it away and ultimately go elsewhere.

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Wake-Up Call

After my father died, I made sure I spoke with my mother every day. Dad’s death was sudden, if not entirely surprising, and there were a lot of logistical details to sort out. Mom, at 71, was living alone for the first time in her life. She wasn’t sleeping well. She was anxious. She didn’t understand all the paperwork that flooded into the house. I wasn’t surprised that she forgot things; she was overwhelmed with grief. And she’d never been good with technology; when she decided the phones in the house weren’t working and replaced them for the third time in a year, we just rolled our eyes. I brushed off suggestions from my brother that she might actually have a problem with her memory. Of course not. She’s just tired, anxious and grief-stricken.

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Falling Fifth: The Neurosurgery Patient and the Anesthesiologist

based on Robert Schumann’s Third String Quartet, Movement 1

Audrey Shafer

We meet in the holding room; a paper dress covers your tattoos

At any moment, your craze of fragile vessels
could spill, fill the sea cave cradling your mind

Your wife holds your hand until it is time for us to go

I guide you as you blow through a straw
swimming across your long day of surgery

Five hours, and five more: surgeons untangle
a crevice of your brain, clamp the feeder, reassemble your skull

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Imagine presciutti


Mary Presciutti

About the artist: 

Mary Presciutti lives in New York City, a single mother of three wonderful children. She is a self-taught Impressionist-style painter inspired by the works of Van Gogh and others. Most of all, she is committed to the health and welfare of patients with diseases of the nervous system; she works as a neurosurgery nurse practitioner at a major medical center in New York City.

About the artwork:

“This painting is part of a series inspired by my longing for peace and understanding as I work in the intensive-care unit caring for patients with neurological diseases, while also coping with the struggle of a relative with addiction and mental illness. Like many before me, I’ve often wondered whether it is possible to connect to something divine and abstract while living in a world of chaos and confusion. It remains a puzzle. Imagine reflects my awe at the beauty of the clouds and the open sea, which remind me of the endless

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“Your ovaries never developed.”

I am trying—and failing—to wrap my mind around those four words, to grasp the weight of their meaning, but every time I try to speak or swallow, the sharpness of the word “never” lodges in my throat. Never, meaning never counting the number of fingers on an ultrasound, never feeling the flutter of little toes against your abdomen, never arguing about whether you prefer the name Sophie or Sophia, never wondering if your baby girl will recognize your voice when you get to hold her for the first time.

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Before Ultrasound

Mary looks not too bad for having a two-week-old baby only now getting good at nursing. He looks content. His weight is not quite where I would like to see it, but not worrisome.

Lifted in my hands, his tone is great, his gaze intensely locks on mine. Put back down, his arms and legs flail enthusiastically. Cheeks are chubby, soft skin is pink. He passes the gestalt test – no worrisome sense that something is not quite right.

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