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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December 2017

Cotton Wool Hair

“How long have you been doing this?” he asked, eyes gleaming with admiration. I was unsure whether he was asking long I had been conducting patient interviews or how long I had been a medical student. I decided on the latter. “Two years,” I replied with a confident smile across my chin. “Well, you’re very good!.” “Thank you,” I replied, almost a whisper.

It was a compliment I was definitely not expecting on my first day there.

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Sara Bybee ~

It’s 2:02 pm when my pager beeps. I pull it out and read: “Juan may have just passed. Going in now.”

As a social worker in the region’s only cancer specialty hospital, I provide emotional support for patients and their families–including talking about their wishes for end-of-life care.

Juan is a sixty-five-year-old Ecuadorian man with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I’ve known him for about a year. Polite and easy to talk to, he often listens to Spanish sermons as he walks through the halls, IV pole at his side.

Over the months, we’ve grown close. He’s told me about his life in Ecuador, his first job (delivering pizza) and how proud he is of his children. I’ve met his wife, Yolanda, and their daughters, Diana and Maria.

Recently, as Juan’s cancer progressed, he told me that if he stopped breathing, he didn’t want to be intubated or resuscitated.

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IMG 3968

Walking Toward the Light

Debbie Hall

About the artist:

Debbie Hall is a psychologist, writer and photographer. Her first poetry collection, What Light I Have, has been published by Main Street Rag. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of literary journals. Her essays have appeared on NPR (“This I Believe” series) and in The San Diego Union Tribune and other magazines/journals.

About the artwork:

“I took this photo of my partner in September, on a morning walk after her first chemotherapy session for breast cancer. It was the beginning of what will be a long and challenging journey for both of us. Although we’ll have many more dark moments as a result of her illness, there is a fundamental sense of moving toward a positive outcome, moving into the light.”

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

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Christmas Story

Ned Towle ~

Christmas Day 2012

This Christmas is different. My wife and I are spending the day alone, as our two children and four grandchildren came over yesterday for the big celebration.

It’s 10:00 in the morning. I have just completed a nine-mile run and am sitting on the living-room floor. My wife, Linda, is on the sofa with her computer.

I feel unusually tired; rather than take a shower, I want to climb into bed.

After all, I did just run nine miles, I tell myself.

My lungs are sore, but running for an hour and twenty-five minutes in thirty-six-degree weather seems a good reason for that. My right arm is numb and my right hand cold, but I reflect that, on my run, I wore a new Christmas gift jacket. That must have pinched the blood flow….

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Karen Ross ~

The new parents,
both rabbis,
have dark circles
under their eyes.

Instead of davening
with prayer shawl,
at each sunrise,
they are drowned
in diapers and breast milk.
Or maybe the drowning
in diapers and breast milk
is the prayer.

Their newborn was created in a lab,
with life cells engineered
by white-coated scientists.
The miracle baby is named
for the angel, Gabriel.

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The Spirit of the Holidays

Snow is drifting down lightly outside my window, and the early-morning light is just starting to shine into my room. I am nestled in my bed, snug and content. Nothing is going to get me out of bed this morning, I think. Then my alarm goes off, and the realization that it is Thursday, that I have a more important place to be, pulls me out of the warmth of my bed. I know I am headed to a place filled with more joy than even a comfy bed can offer me. 

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Weathered Hands Indralingam

Weathered Hands

Renusha Indralingam

About the artist:

Renusha Indralingam is a graduate of Yale University, where she studied molecular biology and film studies. She loves to explore the intersection of storytelling, visuals and medicine, and understands the importance of narrative in a medical setting. She has worked and volunteered in hospices and hospitals in Florida, Connecticut and Alaska.

About the artwork:

“After I had just finished working at a community hospital in Alaska with elderly patients on the Long Term Care Unit, I captured this photos from the top of Taku Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. I was struck by how similar the jagged lines and ridges in the glacier matched the lines and wrinkles in the patients’ hands. The striations in the glacier’s face reflected so much of the geological and natural history of Alaska. In the same way, the personal stories that each patient shared with me reflected just as much Alaskan history: ore mining, fishing, hunting and growing up as native Alaskans

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Poor Me

Usually, I loved my work as an RN in the coronary care unit. But I always dreaded leaving my family on Christmas. Poor me.

So, whenever the schedule called for me to work on the holiday, I’d think back to 1980 and my patient, Mr. Watkins.

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The Masks We Wear

Every day we pass by friends, acquaintances, classmates and strangers, and all of us are wearing smiles on our faces. For some, that reflects feelings of bliss, joy or contentment. For others, though, it can be a mask.

I often think about my pain and the smile I wear to mask it. Most days, I am have the ability to express my troubles and fight the uphill battle against chronic depression. I tell myself, “You can do it! Just go and talk it out with your therapist.”

At least I had the ability to express myself and fight the battle; Helen did not.

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Playing a Hunch

Amy Crawford-Faucher ~

There’s one thing about being a family doctor: After a while, almost every patient you see is a familiar face. This can be a blessing or a curse, but mostly it’s a blessing.

This morning I’m in my office, reviewing today’s patients with Julia, the medical student rotating in our office.

I’m especially looking forward to my 10:30 appointment. It’s the first checkup for a newborn girl named Ella. I’ve known her parents, Emily and Dave, since before they had their first daughter, Katie, now three. I think of them as one of “my” families.

Emily and Dave, in their late twenties, have been together since college. Emily works full-time in a management position. Everything about her is calm and unflappable. Her dark blue eyes, neat dark-brown hair and pleasant expression radiate quiet competence. She easily weathers the garden-variety worries and crises of career and child-rearing.

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