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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May 2018

Firing My Doctor

I didn’t decide to “fire” my doctor on the spot.

During my last appointment with her, I’d filled Dr. Green in on the details of my mastectomy. I happily reported that the surgeon had declared me “cured”–the tumor’s margins were clear and my nodes were negative. Because I had large breasts and wanted to avoid wearing a heavy prosthesis, I’d had a reduction on my healthy breast at the same time. A routine biopsy of that tissue had showed dysplasia–abnormal cells. As a nurse, I’d researched this finding and found scant evidence that it would develop into cancer. My surgeon had concurred.

As I sat on the exam table while Dr. Green stood by the sink drying her hands, I told her I’d decided not to worry about it. 

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Losing Touch

I worry that in the future, doctors won’t touch patients. When I put my hand on the foot of a dying patient–and feel that it is still warm and offer measured encouragement–I am doing the work of this profession.

Telemedicine, on the other hand, is part of another world; I don’t wish it to go away, but that it coexist with the tactile, earthy, demanding, inconvenient reality of patients’ bodies.  

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Basic Training

George Kamajian as told by Bob Fedor ~

I’m an old family doctor. Seen much and forgot more. Life has taught me that we touch our patient’s lives for a moment, a season or a reason–and sometimes with unforeseen consequences.

I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. In 1968, when I was nineteen, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam caught the American military off-guard, and the Pentagon began frantically drafting new troops.

My lottery number was low. I knew my civilian days were numbered, but I didn’t want to go to Vietnam to be a trained killer. It wasn’t in my nature, then or now.

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My Friend, My Patient

Andrea Eisenberg ~

Seeing patients in my ob/gyn office this morning, I try to stave off the mild nervousness rumbling inside of me. My good friend Monica is having a C-section this afternoon, and I’m performing it.

We met ten years ago, when I walked my three-year-old daughter into Monica’s preschool classroom for the first time. Monica sat on the floor, a child in her lap and others playing around her. Like them, I felt drawn by her calm, soothing manner and infectious laugh.

Over time, our friendship grew: At school or social gatherings, we always ended up giggling together. We took family trips together, trained together for marathons and supported each other through heartaches–my divorce, the closing of her childcare business–and our respective struggles to find new paths.

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Last Day

Bettina Gellinek Turner

About the artist:

Bettina Gellinek Turner is the founder and leader of a bedside hospice singing group.

About the artwork:

“I sometimes draw portraits from memory to capture some essence of a patient I have met. The true likeness is not important, but the expression is.”

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

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Unconquer This Territory

When I was six, good Uncle Hyman’s shiny nose enticed me for reasons I now find obscure and incomprehensible. I scrubbed and scrubbed at my own nose to make it as polished as his. It stung a little. But I was pleased.

Until my nose scabbed over in one big sheet the next day. “What have you done?” my mom demanded, and laughed until she couldn’t breathe when I told her.

“All I wanted was a shiny nose,” I cried. She had to sit down because her giggles made her wheeze.

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Night Call

Richard Weiss ~

At two am its insistent ring ambushes me awake.
I whisper, not wanting to disturb my wife or rouse
the dog who will whine for food, write down

the name and number before it’s jumbled, swallow
my resentment on being awakened and listen
to his story–then ask those practiced questions,

scrolling his body from one organ to another.
Tell me about the pain–what it feels like–pressure
or a vise, does it stab, sear, rip, ache, is it steady

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Ten Days and Counting

We were waiting anxiously for a surgery to correct a stricture in our newborn son Ethan’s aorta, just four days following another procedure, to repair defects in his throat. After Ethan was prepped for surgery, the cardiovascular surgeon called us aside. 

“Our first surgery,” he said, “took much longer than we anticipated. We are all a little tired. If you feel strongly that we should go ahead with the operation, we will do it as scheduled. But we would rather wait until Monday.”   

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