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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June 2018

Just What the Doctor Ordered

David Edelbaum ~

I began practicing as an internist/nephrologist in the early 1960s. Having rented an office in Los Angeles, I introduced myself to the local medical community and set out to build a practice.

With a growing family, a mortgage and an office to support, I was hungry for patients. Hospital emergency rooms were good referral sources, so I took ER call at three different hospitals.

Late one Friday night, I got a call from one of these hospitals: A middle-aged engineer was in the ER complaining of chest pain. His electrocardiogram showed minor abnormalities, and he needed to be admitted for observation to rule out a heart attack. Back then, this meant several days of blood tests and repeated electrocardiograms. Uncomplicated heart attacks were treated with bed rest, sedation and blood thinners, followed by gradual ambulation and discharge.

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Encounters: “Who am I to tell someone facing disease how to feel?”

I’m caring for my sister, who’s very ill. When I feel like I’m coming up short, it kind of creates a depression for me. I’ve learned to establish boundaries for myself, because when people become ill like that, they become bitter and mean sometimes. And I’ve really, really, really had to struggle.

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Big Exit

Seven days after we cut out your voice box, you announced that you were leaving. You flung yourself off the bed, ripped at your hospital gown and propelled yourself down eleven flights of stairs with the precise, dramatic flair of a seasoned, stage actor. You were a sight to see.

I followed you down, down, down; my blue scrubs, too big, slipping down over my hips as I ran. There was no stopping you.

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Top of the Hill

Erika Walker ~

“It’s as if you’re at the top of a hill,”
the doctor said. My father listened
from his hospital bed, a plastic tube

fed him breath he could no longer take
for himself. “Each time you get sick,”
the doctor said, “you roll a little farther

down the hill.” His young face shone
above his white coat. I remember rolling
down green hills when I was young,

playing in the park where my father
had played as a child. I laughed, loved
the bump and thrill, the sweet smell

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The Return

Catherine and I had been through my symptoms, diagnosis, staging, treatment and hormone-deprivation therapy. “It’ll be like a menopause,” the consultant had said, and it certainly was. Through flushes, mood swings, emotional fragility and a whole host of side effects from the drugs, she was there, supporting me all the way. Then the treatment was done, a fading memory that had strangely enriched our lives, bringing insights otherwise unobtainable. As I said, half-jokingly, I got in touch with my feminine side. 

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Lisa Gussak

About the artist:

Lisa Gussak is a primary-care doctor who has been practicing for nearly twenty years. Over the past few years, she has become increasingly interested in photography. “I am drawn to the natural world, where I find patterns and/or colors that interest me, particularly when the context is shifted or that which appears small is made large.”

About the artwork:

“I take a lot of pictures of trees, bark and lichen. In this image, I was interested in the way that this small knot of wood reminded me of the skin of many patients I’ve seen over the years.”

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

Callus Read More »

My First Prostate Cancer Screening

According to the National Cancer Institute, about 11.2% of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. When caught early and treated, the five-year survival rate is 100%.
When Prostate Cancer Awareness Week began in 1989, my hospital decided the best way to educate the public about prostate cancer was through screening. We offered men in the high-risk group (ages forty to seventy-five) free prostate checks, and about a hundred men preregistered. Participants had their blood drawn for the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and received a physical exam from a urologist, who felt the participants’ prostate gland for size and the presence of lumps. An abnormal finding on the exam or an elevated PSA led to a recommendation of follow-up and a biopsy.

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A Different Perspective

As I started my third year of medical school on the consultation psychiatry service, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was naive, afraid, and honestly unprepared. Or that’s how I felt anyway. 
My first patient was a man who was referred to our team because of depression. I was sent to talk with him before the rest of the team, including the attending physician, made its rounds. The man was 77 years old but looked more like a older 50. As I introduced myself, a gentle smile formed on his face.

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The Caregiver’s Mantra

Patricia Williams ~

If one more person tells me to be sure to take care of myself, I’m going to bury my face in a pillow and scream.

“Go for a walk, take a vacation,” they advise. I know they’re trying to help, but really? Giving me one more thing to do? Oh well, they’re just doing the best they can.

I moved my folks across the country, from Florida to Washington State, and into an apartment near me so that I could care for them in what seemed to be their final months. My brother, who’d been looking after them, was leaving to get married, and we didn’t think they were safe on their own.

They’d always been fiercely independent, but at almost eighty, with minimal financial or supportive resources, they were struggling with declining health. My father had suddenly lost most of his eyesight and suffered from serious cardiac conditions; my mother was bedridden due to deteriorating joints and alcohol abuse.

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