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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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September 2017

Too Close for Comfort

Andrea Eisenberg ~

Many years ago, on a busy day in my obstetrics-and-gynecology office, one of my partner’s patients came in for “bleeding, early pregnancy.” Since my partner wasn’t in that day, I saw the woman, whose name was Sarah. After we’d talked a bit, I examined her and did an ultrasound. As I’d expected, she was having a miscarriage. Feeling sorry that Sarah had to hear it from me, rather than from her own doctor, I broke the sad news.

We discussed the options: Did she want to have a D&C, or let nature take its course?

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I need some time to decide.” I agreed that this was understandable and left the room so that she could dress. Having notified my partner, I thought no more about it.

A month later, I received a letter from Sarah accusing me of callousness and insensitivity in our encounter.

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Difficult Decisions

My parents made their end-of-life decisions long before they needed to by signing an advance directive. Dad was lucid until the end, but things were different for Mom. After his death, she moved into a nursing home where her slow, sad decline from Alzheimer’s disease continued for seven more heartbreaking years.
During her last winter, mom developed aspiration pneumonia. In the emergency room cubicle, she gasped for breath and tugged on the oxygen mask as her eyes darted to the scrub-clad personnel who hovered around her: a lab tech drawing blood, a nurse starting an IV, a respiratory therapist getting an arterial blood gas. A red emergency cart drawer filled with endotracheal tubes was left ajar. 

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“So, what do you want to do?” asks the man with the pointed nose and the stethoscope around his neck.

Hmmm. Swim with dolphins? Eat a steaming bowl of spaghetti? Dance with the sun on my face? Yes. All of those, I think to myself. But, no. They’re not the options on offer, not any more. My interrogator’s nose is waiting. His grey eyes assess me from under folded lids.

Disempowered Read More »

The Dark

Francie Camper ~

Parkway, three a.m. Ambient light.
Try to shake off the sleeping pill.
Open car window. Rock station 104.3
Watch the divider, the white line.

Count the other cars on the road,
make up stories to stay awake.
Don’t miss the exit for the Interstate.
Don’t miss the Willis Avenue Bridge.

Twenty-six minutes to a parking space.
Forget to read the parking sign.
Shoulder heavy bag: water, apple,
book, journal, healthcare proxy.

One desk and three doors into the
emergency room. Ask the first
person. Ask the second. The third.
Oh she’s in X-ray, it’ll be a while.

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Encounters: “I take so many medications…”

Bronx, New York

About this Encounter: 

I take twenty-one pills at night before I go to bed. In some ways, I think of myself as a pharmacy, I take so many medications.

About the Encounters Project:

This past summer, Pulse’s Visuals Editor collaborated with two medical students from Albert Einstein College of Medicine to launch a project that will add more patient voices to Pulse. Together with Sara Kohrt, students Kristen Lee and Erin McCoy photographed and interviewed patients who were waiting to see their doctors at a Bronx family health center. Patients were asked to talk about their healthcare experiences, to share stories about their lives outside the clinic walls and to reflect on how these two worlds affect each other.

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

Encounters: “I take so many medications…” Read More »

Dismissing a Patient

I could smell the greasy, fast food before I even reached for the door. As I entered the exam room, I caught her rummaging through her McDonald’s bag, then she quickly looked up with a big grin on her face. Without even a pause, she shoved a french fry in her mouth and exclaimed “Hi, Dr. Eisenberg!” Her T-shirt was taut over her pregnant belly, slightly riding up to reveal her chocolaty, smooth skin.

Sigh, I had reminded her before to not bring fast food into the office.

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Cat and Mouse

Kristen Lee ~

On TV shows, therapists decorate their rooms with leather lounge chairs, throw pillows and organza curtains that let in the light.

But Dr. Hassan’s office is in the clinic basement. The fluorescent lighting is sterile. She has a gray metal desk–I think every doctor I’ve shadowed as a medical student has had that same desk.

But I’m not here as a student.

I’ve been anticipating this appointment for a month. In March, I started to take an online physiology exam for school, but instead spent twenty minutes staring motionless at the computer screen. I eventually input the answers and passed the test, but I’d stopped caring.

A week later, I had a panic attack while riding the 6 Train through Midtown Manhattan at rush hour. I’d already been feeling trapped by the tightly scheduled lifestyle of a medical student, and getting sandwiched between strangers inside an underground tube of concrete didn’t help.

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Mom at Home

Arlen Gargagliano ~

Aisha is lurking in the kitchen just outside my home-office door. I hear her rattling dishes and speaking to herself in Twi, a language of her native Ghana. I know that she wants my attention, but I’ve told her that I need time to work. I try to focus on grading my college students’ papers, but I’m distracted.

Aisha is one of my mother’s aides. My mother requires care twenty-four/seven, and Aisha is one of several women, primarily foreign-born, who care for her in shifts. Mom’s had this arrangement since 2012, when several ministrokes disabled her brain and self-care abilities, and a broken leg left her mostly bedbound. My father’s recent death, ending their marriage of more than five decades, prompted my husband and me to bring Mom into our home. She’s been living here with us for the past five months.

In Mom’s younger days, the word “dynamo” wouldn’t begin to describe her. She orchestrated countless gatherings and large-scale fiestas at home for our family (my parents, my four siblings and me), our large extended family and friends and Dad’s Mad Men clients. She bossed us all around with prep tasks, and delighted guests

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