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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April 2019


John Barber ~

I walked into the room of a dying man. This phrase might conjure up the image of a frail, white-haired patient peacefully nearing the end of life. Alex, however, was thirty–just two years older than me.

I was a third-year medical student doing a rotation in the ICU. This first encounter was sadly inglorious: As my team entered Alex’s room, the police officer who’d been guarding him walked out, leaving Alex handcuffed to the bed.

Alex looked like a ghost, his cheeks sunken and lifeless. A heart infection caused by his IV drug use was spewing dangerous bacteria through his bloodstream, infecting his lungs and spine. When not sedated, he was delirious, eyes staring wildly between wasted temples.

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A Moment in Hospice

She is a collector: stamps, coins, wine glasses of various shades and shapes, Donald Duck memorabilia. These are her childhood treasures rediscovered from boxes in the attic. Her mother kept them all, not knowing they would serve a purpose someday. On the nightstand is a recent photograph of this radiant woman with chestnut curls.

The person before me now is an empty vessel and nothing more; her limbs limp, her breaths shallow, her eyes closed, her age: fifty-four. The dressings need to be changed around-the-clock to slow the march of decay. The wound tunnels deep, exposing her sacrum as the soaked gauze is removed. Her body is still. Not yet at peace but near the point of defeat.

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The Memory Unit

Ann Anderson Evans ~

I arrive in the memory unit at 1:30 in the afternoon. Jean, my mother’s sister, is fast asleep in her hospital bed in Room 1410. For the past ten years, it has fallen to me to be her frequent visitor and care monitor. I do this willingly because without her generosity and compassion, my life would have been far less meaningful and enjoyable. She never married, but my brothers and I honored her on Mother’s Day. My brothers sometimes drive here from their distant homes for a bedside family reunion.

During her decades of charitable work, Jean was named Recycler of the Decade by the New Jersey Department of the Environment, received the New Jersey Pride Award from the governor and chaired the New Jersey Audubon Society. Except by a few elderly colleagues, she’s been forgotten in the outside world.

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Three generations

Alan Blum

About the artist: 

Alan Blum is a professor and Gerald Leon Wallace MD Endowed Chair in family medicine at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Tuscaloosa. A self-taught artist, he has published three books of his sketches and stories of patients, and his artworks have appeared in more than a dozen medical journals and textbooks. Many of his sketches have appeared in Pulse. He is a frequent guest speaker at medical schools in courses in the humanities.

About the artwork:

“This was in a small room at a children’s hospital over twenty-five years ago. As with nearly all of my sketches, I made it on the spur of the moment–struck by the young patient, his mother and his grandmother huddled in silence, caring for one another. It’s my only drawing of three generations.“

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

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Carpe Diem

Johanna Shapiro ~

After my husband’s ocular stroke,
we wondered about the risk of a “real one.”
“Significantly increased,”
said the busy physician.
“What can we do?”
“Take a baby aspirin–
and live life to the fullest.”
We took this prescription to the pharmacist,
who gave us the aspirin
but added, “You’re on your own for the rest.”

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All I Could Do

Leigh B. Grossman ~

The clinic in rural Haiti is a small stucco building with no electricity or running water. The temperature inside the clinic is 103 degrees, and there is no breeze. The examining-room walls are only seven feet high and afford no privacy.

This is my fourteenth trip to Haiti as a volunteer pediatrician. My twenty-fifth patient of the morning is a three-month-old infant named Joceylyn Marquee, who is completely swaddled in a dirty blanket and is carried in by her mother, Lucie.

In our tiny cubicle, Lucie sits with Joceylyn on her lap. The interpreter, Fredeson, and I are also seated. We’re all so close together that our knees touch. The acrid smell of human dirt, sweat and anxiety permeates the small space.

Fredeson translates the child’s story to me while Lucie, a small, tired, very thin woman in her late twenties, dressed in her finest church clothes, carefully unwraps her baby.

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Rewiring the Brain

About the artist:

Paul Rooprai is a graduate from the health sciences program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He is interested in studying medicine and in creating medical illustrations. His love for digital media and drawing led him to learn how to use Photoshop to create biomedical graphics.

About the artwork:

“This poster is about mindfulness and how it positively influences the brain. Mindfulness is something that I’m very passionate about, and this prompted me to create the artwork. Performing this simple practice daily has helped me tremendously in managing my own mental health, and I would like others to know more about it.”

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

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Coping with the Present

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago. I did my best to get all the information I needed through research and information, but the thought of having cancer scared me. So I listened to everything my doctor had to say–including that I could have either chemotherapy or surgery, but that with surgery, he would be more likely to get all of the cancer, since it had not spread beyond my prostate. I chose surgery.

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An Abyss of Not Knowing

She looked at me with desperation in her eyes. “I just don’t know,” she said.

“What’s wrong? What don’t you know?” I asked. With tears in her eyes and increased urgency in her voice, M insisted, “I just don’t know…I don’t know. I don’t know!” Hands turning white from gripping the armrests of her wheelchair, she slumped over, shut her eyes and shook her head in honest confusion and fear.

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