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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 2020

Retirement, Hibernation, and Renewal

I retired from a deeply satisfying teaching career just before I turned sixty-five, having always thought I would keep teaching well into my seventies. The decision came in the aftermath of my parents’ illnesses and deaths.

The years between stroke and death for both my mother and father seem, with hindsight, to have been a time of accelerated aging for me, not so much in my legs and arms and feet as in my heart and brain. Not so much the aging that reaps wisdom but the aging that topples into vulnerability. The aging that makes it seem too hard to keep up with a challenging job, to keep giving my students the education they deserve. The aging that makes each ache or pain or worry that I would have shrugged off at a younger age feel like inevitable decline, a one-way street.

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Greetings and Salutations

Greetings and Salutations

I have seen tribesmen in the West African country of Mali meet each other on a narrow dirt path and stop to spend several minutes chanting highly scripted greetings. When they part, shortly afterwards, there is an equally elaborate farewell.

As a psychiatrist and medical educator, I’ve seen my colleagues carrying out a parallel ritual: Two doctors hurriedly passing each other in a hospital hallway and cheerily but tersely saying, “How are you?”–neither slowing down to hear the other’s response. The greeting is equally formalized; it’s just shorter.

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Mortality and Morbidity Conference

Mortality and Morbidity Conference

I imagined something Victorian.
Perhaps I imagined a lecture hall filled with side-whiskered,
Sherlockian doctors, arguing case histories
like gentlemen playing chess with death–
or perhaps I imagined priests,
performing absolution at the bier.

I did not have to imagine the grey
underground conference room.
I was unsurprised at the bitter
coffee, the keening of the projector, the recalcitrant
bangs from the water pipes–

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Birthday Card Campaign

My awesome friend, Flo, worked as the RN nurse manager of the Spinal Cord Unit at the Veterans Administration hospital for many years. During that time, she married, raised twins and earned a master’s degree. Then, in 1990, she came to work at my hospital, and we’ve been friends ever since.

Flo was generous, had a great sense of humor and always saw the best in people. We said she looked at the world through rose-colored glasses.

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I Used to Be Happy about My Birthday

My mother was forty-nine when she died of primary pulmonary hypertension. She was a non-smoker and a non-drinker, but she had a tremendous amount of stress in her life. After being told she could not have a management job because she was a woman, she sued her employer for discrimination. These were the days of the “women’s liberation movement.”
My mother won her lawsuit, but she died before it was settled. I blame the stress of the lawsuit on her illness and untimely death. 

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The Cedenos 2 14 20


Editor’s Note: During a summer internship with Pulse, medical student Kristen Lee had the opportunity to interview Mr. C, who comes to a Bronx family health center for medical care. He was accompanied by his wife, who never goes to the doctor for herself but frequently joins her husband to make sure that he’s giving his doctor accurate information. They are both immigrants to the Bronx–he from the Dominican Republic and she from Puerto Rico. Their immigrant story is uniquely theirs and also typically American. See their photo at the story’s end.
Mrs. C: I’ve known him for forty-five years. That’s how long we’ve been married. I was old when we got married, like thirty-three. He was seven years younger than me, but we’re still here. We met when I went to the Dominican Republic. My big sister was married to a Dominican guy; that guy was close to him. And he told him that to get to the US–

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King of Pain

King of Pain

I am a retired union plumber with the state of Illinois. I’ve had laparoscopic surgery on both knees, a lower back surgery that required two stainless rods and I’m not sure how many screws, and three cervical fusions. I now suffer from neuropathy (nerve dysfunction) in my feet. They’re painfully numb: A shoe could come off, and I wouldn’t know it. I find it difficult to get around–not to mention embarrassing when I go back into a restaurant looking for a sandal.
I don’t understand why in today’s world, with medical research moving so fast, I’m in so much pain.

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