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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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March 2017

No Laughing Matter

“You need a fifth surgery,” the maxillofacial surgeon tells me. “Heterotopic bone is again growing over your prosthetic device.”

For eight years I have endured intense pain in my left jaw. While having four surgeries, I have also undergone Botox treatment, acupuncture and physical therapy; taken a variety of medications prescribed by pain doctors, neurologists and my primary care physician; and used specially made creams, ice and heat on the affected area. Nothing has worked.

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Hearing Voices

Robert Burns

“She’s been hearing voices,” says Adala’s nephew Diri. “She hears them every night.”

The three of us sit in an examination room of my private geriatrics practice. I’ve been in a community-based practice in Memphis, Tennessee, for nearly twenty years.

Adala is a tall, slender woman. Dressed in a gray-blue guntiino, a long piece of cloth tied over the shoulder and draped around the waist, she has her head covered with a shawl. Her gaze shifts from her nephew to me; her eyes search my face and then stare silently at the floor. Despite the differences in culture and language, she is like many of my patients brought by a family member. She’s not here by choice; she came in deference to Diri’s wishes.

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Brave New World

Rosalind Kaplan

I think a lot about quitting medicine lately. A lot.

Then I have a morning like yesterday morning:

I see a patient I’ve known for more than twenty years, caring for him through an adrenal tumor, a major gastrointestinal surgery and now renal failure, for which he needs a kidney transplant. As we review his last set of labs (stable, thank goodness), he is sanguine, hopeful. He may have found a donor, and he might make it to transplant without dialysis. He has to live–he has a wife and a child.

Next, I mess up my schedule entirely by spending more than half an hour with a patient who only came in to talk–not about herself, really, but about her husband who has just been diagnosed with a probably fatal illness. I break all of my own rules and tell her what I’d do if this were my own husband–how to push him to get emotional support, where to go for a second opinion….When she leaves, we hug like sisters.

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I missed his birthday again gamblee

I Missed His Birthday, Again

Jef Gamblee

About the artist: 

Jef Gamblee is a hospice chaplain from Westerville, Ohio. He first appeared in Pulse in December 2014. Jef is a second-career ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, having spent twenty-five years in commercial and corporate television as a director of photography. He keeps his hand in still photography to maintain his sanity. 

About the artwork:

“As a hospice chaplain, I frequently visit adults with dementia who live in the ‘memory units’ of assisted-living facilities. On one such visit, my last of the day, I went to see a very sweet woman whom I hoped was stable. It was clear when I arrived that she was dying, and that I wasn’t going to make my grandson’s fifth birthday party. Walking to my car after she died, I took this photo. The light and the empty lot seemed to underscore my life story at that moment.”

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Hope Lost

In 2004, Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic Convention. He entitled it “The Audacity of Hope.” At the time, as a wide-eyed, innocent medical student who had just finished her third-year clerkships, I wondered if the medical profession had not only lost this audacity but, furthermore, if we discouraged our patients from “the audacity of hope.”

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Anatomy Lesson

“Okay, it is time to move on,” my professor claps his hands together and yells above the chatter. We all look up from our Netter’s anatomy books and our cadavers. The smell of formaldehyde burns my nose as the fluorescent lights flicker above.

“We have explored the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. It is now time to move onto the extremities, starting with the arms. I want you to unwrap the arms and study the anatomy of the arms and the hands. I’ll come by each group to go over exactly what I want you to do. Okay, everyone, let’s get started,” he says.

 I turn to my group. “Who wants to do the unwrapping?”

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Rachel Hadas

The bull between whose horns I perch is life.
The bull between whose horns I cling is death.
Tossed on these horns who bleeding dies
Or doesn’t die but bleeding, hanging on,

rides, and the bull charges through late winter
as through an icy pane and into spring.
Shards shower in its wake.
We need to make a place for the dilemma,

sweep the shards and gather up the pieces,
clear out a space for puzzlement and grief.
I visited the hospital, came home,
tried, failed to sleep, tossed in confusion,

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Heart and Soul

Fredy El Sakr

“Help!” I yelled out of our open apartment door.

I was seven years old, and my family had recently emigrated from Egypt to the US. We’d been feeling elated that week because, after months of interviews, my father had matched into a pediatric residency.

That morning he’d awakened feeling nauseated. My mother and sister went to buy some soothing food. I noticed that he’d vomited in the bathroom; now he was feeling worse.

He knew it was serious, because he put on his brown leather jacket and lay back in our blue recliner, waiting for my mom to return and take him to the emergency room. Now and then he’d look at me reassuringly with deep, dark, pain-stricken eyes, but he was clearly in agony. Then, as I watched, his eyes rolled back in his head.

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cousins campbell


Pris Campbell

About the artist: 

Pris Campbell has published free verse and short forms (haiku and tanka) in numerous journals over the years. She developed her love of graphic manipulation of images through creating haiga–haiku combined with an image. One of her graphics was used for the cover of the poetry journal Red-headed Stepchild. A former clinical psychologist sidelined by myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) since 1990, she makes her home in greater West Palm Beach, Florida.

About the artwork:

“This is a modified image of my two first cousins in childhood, with me in the middle. I created the image this way to express how memories of those we’ve loved and lost still travel with us. Both died in their sixties of sudden heart attacks. They were like sister and brother to me, and I loved them dearly. Their deaths were a huge loss, and I still smile to think

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