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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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March 2021

Where Faith and Public Health Meet

Today I participated in a vaccination effort that was conducted at a church. Over the past few weeks, I have been reading about the faith community’s varied responses to the pandemic. While disappointed with the responses of some religious leaders, I was encouraged by others.

Today’s event brought me a sense of hope. It felt like a true meeting point of the faith and public health communities.

In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, I managed to ask some of the patients we saw about their everyday lives. A young woman told me she was working and schooling for a total of about seventy hours a week. A couple of people, who had initially indicated that they would be unavailable on the date specified for the second dose, modified their plans when they realized there was no alternate date for the second dose. One woman told me how she had been trying to get the vaccine for months. Another thought it would be unwise not to get the vaccine, even though she was nervous.

Even though I try to maintain an awareness of my assumptions, some of my interactions expanded my notions of human diversity. I was surprised » Continue Reading.

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The Invisible String

Although I never met my great-grandmother, I heard many stories about her—often involving ancient healing practices and the interconnectedness of the universe. One such story was her belief in what she called the Invisible String. This string was described as existing in all living things and connecting us to one another, beyond our physical or waking state; in energy healing practices, this is called the Human Energy Field. The first time I heard this story, I felt instantly connected to her with my own inner knowing.

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Easy Listening

“I’m really sorry,” the audiologist said. From her expression, I could see that she meant it.

It was the winter of 2012, when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were about to become their parties’ nominees for president, and the case that would legalize same-sex marriage was on its way to the Supreme Court.

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Navigating the Unfamiliar

The scar from my appendectomy is now over my heart. Last January I traveled to have surgery that I hoped would put me back together again. “You’ll love it,” said the leader of an online group that housed no pictures of what people look like after.

“Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator” surgery is a reconstructive procedure involving the removal, replacement and rerouting of parts. A thick layer of my midsection was rolled back like a weighted blanket and cut to be relocated above. A surgeon scraped bone off and moved an artery from one place to another. Now my lymphatic capillaries and sliced nerves are trying to regenerate. Ends are trying to find each other again.

I didn’t get my body back. I don’t love it. I don’t love winding scars where everything got put back together. But they’re mine, and I’m alive.

Days after the surgery, I stood on the deck of a hotel talking to a friend. Headlines rolled about a faraway virus. We thought it might be extreme to worry though we both, having been through life-threatening illness, knew far-fetched fears have possibility. “Watch, it will be a pandemic,” we laughed. Sort of. On the flight home, I wore

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This winter, it seemed to me that silver linings were popping up everywhere, like starbursts cast as fairy dust from Tinkerbell’s wand. Everyone seemed to be finding them, but few had any meaning for me. When the vaccine first became available in the new year, I was desperate to get it. Newly diagnosed with cancer, I wanted all the extra protection I could get. I have now received both vaccines and do, indeed, feel safer.

But I’m still not seeing any silver leaking from the sky. Like a horse with blinders, I can see only straight ahead, and everything leads towards a doctor’s office, hospital lab or treatment room. No sunshine, no clouds, no silver linings in any of those places.  

And yet… masks! Being immuno-suppressed from chemotherapy means I need to be wary of going out in public. I’m quite sure it never would have occurred to me before to wear a mask, but now that they are mandated, it’s become welcome silver armor for me.

Then just last week a different color lining burst through the clouds of my despair. I learned about an organization for women with breast cancer. It

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I’ll Trade You

I will say you can have your silver linings. Keep them. Save them for when you need them and then see how wonderful they don’t feel. 

Understand what the price of one really is. Yes, I have learned to be grateful for the small, everyday mercies. And I really am, on most days. Yes, I know others have it much worse. Yes, maybe I am stronger, wiser, kinder. But actually I won’t ever know, will I?  Because there isn’t another me to compare it to. Yes, character, courage, all those things. But what if I would have been okay–and I really think I would have been–had I been left alone without all these opportunities to offer forgiveness, and courage and the brave smile, to show love to those who had hurt me and others, not to have borne witness to how cruel people can be to one another. Especially to children. 

I’m not so much angry, really, as tired of everyone thinking they have a silver lining to offer. We don’t hold them for others, and the price is significant. Like resilience, silver linings come after pain. And often a lot of it. Decisions–with no clear path–just whatever the gamble

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Many Happy Returns

As we mark one year of COVID-19, I am reminded of my uncomfortable relationship with anniversaries. Cyclic completion may warrant celebration, but also self-monitoring: How many of my goals have I met this year? What have I missed? What can I do better next year? Under this lens of surveillance, any repetition can start to look like regression. Circular time, for all its recurrences and renewals, chafes against the idea of linear time, which prizes productivity, trackable progress toward an aim, a forward-looking mindset.

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Healing the Little Brain

I was twenty-eight when I first walked into Matthew’s room in the neurosurgery ward at the university medical center. A newly graduated physical therapist, I was working at my first job in the field. I was there to evaluate Matthew for physical therapy, and I had all the right gear–a white lab coat, running shoes, a stethoscope, a clipboard and a goniometer (an instrument that measures joint angles)–and an enthusiastic desire to help this young man function normally.

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