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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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February 2018

To Sleep, Perchance to Die

The best advice I got during residency–in Los Angeles, land of freeways–came from a senior resident. “When you’re driving home on the freeway after being on call, always drive in a middle lane, so when you fall asleep, the lane bumps will wake you up as you start to drift. There aren’t any bumps on the sides.” That tip probably saved my life, and likely that of many other residents as well.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events

Holland M. Kaplan ~

I’m sitting in the ICU team room, staring at the computer, trying to look like I’m writing a note. But my head is pounding.

As an internal-medicine resident doing my first month of residency, I’ve found the ICU of the bustling county hospital a jarring place to start my training. Although I’d anticipated the clinical challenge of caring for very ill ICU patients, I was unprepared for the emotional burden of having to deliver devastating, life-altering news to them and to their family members.

Faint yells emerge from Room 7. They have an almost rhythmic quality: “Ahhh!”…(three seconds)…”Ahhh!”…(three seconds)…”Ahhh!”

It’s Ms. Burton. I’ve just gotten back from checking on her, but I plod back again.

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ensign chaos


Josephine Ensign

About the artist:

Josephine Ensign is a professor of nursing and an adjunct professor in the School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. She authored the medical memoir Catching Homelessness: A Nurse’s Story of Falling Through the Safety Net.


About the artwork:


“This is a mixed-media piece (acrylic gel, paint, yarn, paper) that I made in response to my experience of being diagnosed with mixed connective-tissue disease. The red string represents the narrative thread that helped me to navigate the medical maze.”

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

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Hidden Wounds

“Growing up in an abusive home completely changed my outlook on life. There’s no love inside the home, only fear. Eventually, the pain and fear became normal. You’re afraid of your parents but you’re also afraid of a world without them because they’re all you know. You’re anxious, depressed, even suicidal. You have no social skills. It’s a lonely world with no way to cope.”
That was the searing testimony of Wyatt, a thirty-year-old military veteran in my developmental psychology class. On the first night of class, he warned me that he might pace in the back of the room because it was difficult for him to sit still for three hours. Halfway through the course, when I assigned students to explain how child maltreatment affects the developing brain, Wyatt drew a picture with words of what it’s like to grow up without love.

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Pregnancy Journal

Laurice Gilbert ~

4th January 1986 / opened the journal and wrote the first entry:
swapped completely from mercury to digital thermometer

basal body temperature: a colorful set of graphs that each invests
3 months with footnotes, asterisks and inexplicable numbers

Reading: Birth Without Violence / The Paper Midwife
A Guide to Responsible Home Birth

21st January / passed my Distance Learning exam in Horticulture
Human Biology next perhaps / forgot to take my temperature

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Ingrid Forsberg ~

It’s 10:00 am on a Monday in June. I’m the nurse practitioner on duty in a convenience care clinic housed in a corner drugstore in urban Chicago.

Sunlight is pouring through the huge storefront windows when my first patient of the day walks in. He’s in his late twenties, muscular, crew-cut. He looks like someone who’s used to being in charge.

Right now, though, he looks anxious. He’s pale, with dark circles under his eyes. His eyes scan the store, looking for something.

I know immediately that he’s looking for me.

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Sarah C. Bauer

About the artist:

Sarah C. Bauer, a developmental pediatrician in Chicago, explores and reflects on relationships between patients, families and physicians through narrative, poetry and visual arts.


About the artwork:


“This photograph represents a time of reflection, transformation and renewal as I reconsidered my calling in medicine. This image captures a time of difficult decisions, refining my role as a physician and restoring my faith in the art and healing power of the relationships between patients, families and physicians. Through such experiences and moments, I’ve discovered the dynamic nature of calling and purpose.”

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

Calling Read More »

Nobody Is Watching

We were first to the auditorium, as I figured we would be. As fourth-year medical students, we were each on a mission: to impress residents and program directors so that we might ultimately obtain what had once been an abstract and distant thought: a job as an orthopaedic surgery resident.
The conference wasn’t to start until 6 a.m., but we arrived early, maybe 5:30 or so. Residents trickled into the auditorium, each casting a judgmental gaze in our direction, while we squirmed in our chairs being choked by our collar and tie.

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Riding Out the Storm

Dan Yashinsky ~

In Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, if a blizzard keeps you in your neighbor’s house, they say you’ve been “storm-stayed.” I first learned this term from a storyteller in the Maritimes, and it’s come to hold special meaning for me and those I work with.

I am the storyteller-in-residence at a research and teaching hospital for the elderly, in Toronto. My work here, known as “storycare,” reflects the institution’s philosophy that literature and storytelling are essential to health care.

Every week, I work with clinicians and therapists to bring storycare to patients in the palliative-care, rehab and long-term-care units. Twice weekly, I head to the fourth floor to co-lead storytelling circles for the geriatric psychiatry patients.

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