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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August 2017

Coming Up Short

Meghan G. Liroff ~

“Why so short?” says the four-year-old girl who’s here with an upper-respiratory infection.

Standing safely between her dad’s knees, she wears a bright pink jumpsuit. Her cheeks are dimpled; her hair is piled in a frizzy bun. She looks me up and down, as if trying to make sense of me.

I can’t help laughing.

It’s true, I think. At five feet even, I’m not blessed with height–but I make up for it in chutzpah. I squat down to bring my eyes level with hers.

“I’m not laughing at you,” I reassure her. “I’m just laughing because you picked up on a major thread in my life.”

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Casa Juan Diego 2

Casa Juan Diego Portraits



Alan Blum

About the artist:

Alan Blum is a professor and Gerald Leon Wallace MD Endowed Chair in family medicine at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Tuscaloosa. A self-taught artist, he has published three books of his sketches and stories of patients, and his artworks have appeared in more than a dozen medical journals and textbooks. Many of his sketches have appeared in Pulse. He is a frequent guest speaker at medical schools in courses in the humanities.

About the artwork:

Alan Blum shared the experience of being in the clinic with his associate physician, Marsha Holleman. She had the following to say about that time and about his sketches.

“Casa Juan Diego is a Catholic Worker house of hospitality, serving new arrivals to the US and Houston, mostly from Latin America. Inspired by Dorothy

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Overcoming Fear

At age 90, in the middle of the night, my father took his last breath as my mother slept soundly by his side. For 63 years, every night, my mother and father lay side by side–she always very still, he always snoring. Throughout those years they were apart rarely, neither liking to sleep alone.

After waking to find him dead, she stayed by his side for hours. HIs cold, stiff body did not frighten her. Instead, she found comfort in stroking his ashen face, touching his lifeless hand. What frightened her was the thought of leaving him to others. What frightened her was his leaving her. She knew only a life where he took care of everything–the house, the finances, the plans for each day. Now, at age 87, her eyesight was nearly gone, her body crippled and mangled by arthritis, her mind forgetful. She believed she was truly dependent on him.

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Out of the Blue

Marianna Crane ~

As I sit in the exam room waiting for my first patient of the afternoon, the phone rings. It rings four more times before I realize that Amanda Ringwald, our eighty-year-old receptionist, hasn’t come back from taking a rare lunch break.

I pick up the phone and say, “VA Hospital. Marianna Crane.” Oops, I’m not back at the VA anymore. “Senior Clinic,” I quickly add.

“Hello, my friend.”

The familiar voice makes my throat tighten and my eyes water. How in God’s name did he track me down at work?

“Mr. Foley. How are you?”

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As I drove home after seeing my CT scan, I thought about how I could avoid telling anyone my diagnosis. It would be easy, I figured. I would wait until I had written confirmation of what I had seen. A few days passed, and I was able to maintain the deception–I loved acting, and this was an easy role for me, as protector of my family.

When the radiology report arrived, I felt like I was reading a report about one of my patients: “…suggestive of malignancy,”  it said. I kept looking at the name and birthdate–yes, this was my report. Thus began my path down the rough road of lung cancer.

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Post-Op Poet

Judy Schaefer ~

How can I write a poem, nurse, in this pelted room? Nurse? Nurse!
Memory loss, southern pine–nurse, this is not a poem-writing-room
The floors ooze resin at your footsteps
          Spanish moss, from every wall
Spongy trod of medical students
Surgery went well, anesthesia lifted
Cologne of betadine, a boarish root for a vein
at the same time each morning. I welcome
the lady of the mop–tincture of mossy pine
back and forth, she says her prayers. She is my alarm clock.
I peek from crusty eyelids and dread the washcloth
Back and forth–path and path–room and nurse
How does one begin a poem? How to start?
Anesthesia has lifted long ago
I try to remember how I got here

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bridge of compassion

Bridge of Compassion

Deborah Kasman

About the artist: 

Deborah Kasman is a family physician and bioethicist who has straddled both careers. She has always loved the arts and was an active photographer until she started a family. As her children grew older, she decided to take up painting and learned a method called Intentional Creativity. This process and productivity has allow her a wonderful release and form of expression for her internal state. 

About the artwork:

“As I entered bioethics full time, I was struggling to define my career and goals. During a five-month course of developing my story and ‘legend,’ I realized my role as bioethicist was to build bridges of compassion. I once had a deep spiritual experience in which I felt compassion, and in this painting I tried to convey what compassion feels like. My role is to create space for this compassion to occur between healthcare providers and their patients and families. The painting depicts a ribbon

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A Fine Man

I’ve been afraid twice as a result of my multiple sclerosis. The first time, I was twenty. As I sat down on the edge of the bathtub one day, the backs of my legs felt oddly cold–even numb. I ran to the library and looked up MS, and my heart began to race. Yes, odd sensations of hot and cold were among MS’s symptoms. Suddenly, I could see my future life as my grandmother’s–as that of someone who sat in a chair all day, used a walker and watched TV, not as that of the geologist I was studying to be.
My actual diagnosis came twenty-two years later, after I’d had three children and was embarking on a second career. By the time I received the news, I’d experienced enough incidents like the bathtub moment that I expected it. I wasn’t afraid then.

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My First Code

Jessica Greenberg ~

“Code Blue, Interventional Radiology suite,” blare the overhead speakers.

I am a new third-year medical student, doing my first rotation in internal medicine at Yale New Haven Hospital. This morning, I’ve been rounding on patients with my medical team.

The alarm sends us lumbering down the halls, struggling to keep our clogs from falling off our feet, clutching our white jackets to our chests to keep the pockets full of stethoscopes and pens and patient lists from bouncing.

Arriving in the IR suite, I stop about twenty feet from the middle-aged woman lying in the patient bed. More than a dozen physicians and nurses crowd around her, obscuring my view.

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Hold Me

Wendy’s hoarse howling startled me. She was usually among the best-behaved, highest functioning residents in our group home for adults with mental challenges. But today I turned to see my colleague, Sandra, struggling to bring Wendy back to her room, while fending off her kicks and bites the whole way. I fought my own fear of getting hurt and ran to help.

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