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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October 2017

Wait and Hope

Today I woke up much like the days before, and this ability to rouse myself from the safety of my bed, I count as my first of small triumphs. I have been waking up like this since I can remember, in a fog of depression, with my first thought always “I’m not sure I can do this again.”

I have never not felt the pain that is depression; I have just had moments of success in hiding it. I fight the callous thoughts all day, every day. Some days I win, some days I fail spectacularly.

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Cri de Coeur

Naderge Pierre ~

As a surgical resident nearing my final year of training, I loved to operate. Whenever I was on call in the trauma unit at our large urban teaching hospital in Washington, DC, I’d yearn for my pager to go off.

I was always tired, too–but for a surgical resident, fatigue is a given. Sleep and eat when you can, get your work done and operate like a madwoman: That was my life. It felt like a high-adrenaline thrill ride, and I was enjoying every swoop and turn.

I never expected that, while racing towards the final exhilarating peak of my training, I would become a patient myself.

Ironically, it happened right after the most memorable surgery of my trauma rotation.

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Why Are You Alive?

It was the last evening of July, the summer I turned sixteen. I lay on a hospital bed on my left side, looking across the empty bed beside mine toward the window and the waning sunshine. The window was cranked open as far as its hinge would allow, wide open to the summer city evening–faraway traffic noise an undercurrent to the waves of hot pavement smell and the increasing music of a cooling breeze. I was floating in an ether of fever. Leaves rustled as beech trees shook off the heat of the day. Sparrows chirped. Relief! Respite! Perhaps the window was closed.
I was drowsy from anesthesia and a multitude of drugs–gifts that would eventually restore me. Recovering from surgery and my ruptured appendix in this plain, blue-green room, I was to learn about pain and the medicines that are married to it.

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Not Too Young for Pain

As a kid, whenever I felt bored in church, I passed the time by staring: watching the flashing emerald lights in my vision shimmer. I didn’t find this sight unusual, nor was I surprised by the ever-present ache in my head. Having nothing to compare my experiences to, I figured that heads just hurt and that you could make your vision glitter by staring the right way. The word migraine meant nothing to me.

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Lean on Me

Joseph Fennelly ~

One morning in my office, a tall, slim package arrives along with a note, a portion of which follows:

Dr. Fennelly,

I can’t apologize enough for not getting your walking stick back sooner. Since my dad’s passing we have had to move my mother (who has a memory problem) several times, and with each move the walking stick moved too.

In some ways it reminded me of my dad and the relationship you and he had. It was comforting for him and us to know he had you in his corner to lean on and support him.

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Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts

Cheri Geckler

About the artist:

Cheri Geckler is a neuropsychologist who has worked in academic hospitals in Boston for most of her career. “Making art is a way of calming the fields and creating deeper insight into the complex lives of the patients I serve.”

About the artwork:

“Patients on pediatric epilepsy service are often much more complicated than the record ever reveals. Expressing this complexity visually has helped me to maintain an acute awareness of the uniqueness of each patient and his or her multifaceted needs.“

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

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What I Keep

Melissa Fournier ~

Inked footprints on paper
a one-ounce trial size
   of Johnson’s Head-to-Toe Baby Wash
   one-quarter gone
a striped receiving blanket and knit hat
   folded inside a clear plastic bag
   zipped to preserve her scent
a vial of holy water
   one-third gone
a dried white rose entwined with baby’s breath
two hospital bracelets
one sonogram picture at seven weeks
three sonogram pictures at twenty weeks
a urine-imbued double-pink-lined stick
   which I hold like proof
   the way Thomas held out his blood-
   and-water-soaked finger
   after removing it from Christ’s
   pierced side

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A Tribute to Arshi

In 2013 one of my postgraduate students, Arshi, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Constant visits to the hospital, regular chemo sessions, medications, and visits to Tata Memorial in Mumbai. We gathered for poetry readings and meetings for prayers. We celebrated her birthday on 2nd December, 2013 with a new hairdo and an artificial breast that had been arranged by a friend from Mumbai.
Ah, how I wished some miracle would happen and relieve her of her pain.

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