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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 2022

Caught in the Crossfire

I’ll call him Rocky. In a drive-by incident, his father was killed, and Rocky, age one, was shot multiple times.

His initial resuscitation was heroic—he received medicines to support his blood pressure, underwent emergency surgeries and was still attached to machines to support his breathing—but by the time I met him, the drama of his shooting had receded: He and his medical team had settled into a stable routine.

Though I suspect that the team had expressed their grief earlier on, I found this sense of calm jarring and unnatural.

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June More Voices: Gun Violence

Dear Pulse readers,

A few years after my father passed away, my mother was visited at her New Jersey condominium by one of her favorite nephews, who drove down to visit from Canada.

Something happened–as I recall, it was a misunderstanding over a condominium parking space that my cousin was using. In trying to sort this out, the son of a friend of my mother’s became enraged and suddenly, without warning, punched my cousin in the face, knocking him down.

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How Poetry Broke My Heart

On June 2, 2010, I was giving a poetry reading at the faculty club at Columbia University Medical Center in New York as part of their “Literature & Medicine” series. I still have the list of poems I read that day, poems that spoke of my work as a nurse practitioner. One poem described my examination of an abused woman; another recounted the experience of a young teen, raped by her sister’s boyfriend. Other poems concerned the mysteries surrounding death as well as the joys of healing.

Somewhere halfway through the reading, I developed what is aptly called crushing chest pain.

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No Chill Pill?

They have pills for everything it seems, but not a chill pill.

When I was young, I would often look up to see my mother’s concerned face outlined in the kitchen window, knocking, beckoning me into the house. “Quickly,” she’d say, leading me to the sink where she immersed my wrists into cold water, while draping a wet hand towel over the back of my neck. This was a normal occurrence for me: getting overheated, face red, white around my lips. “Sit in front of the fan,” my mother would say, as the headache started.

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My Story, Not Yours

I entered her room and introduced myself in the usual fashion. Jennie and Mike welcomed my visit. I explained that I wrote “patient stories” at the hospital and asked if they would enjoy telling me about themselves. They readily agreed.

Mike explained that Jennie’s vital organs were shutting down. Together they agreed to hospice care for her that morning.

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Mistaken Identity

The rooms on the observation unit are small, so as I rounded with my team, we were forced to encircle the patient’s bed to fit in the space. I, her attending physician, stood at the right side of the head of the bed as one resident, two interns, and three medical students took their places around the bed. She looked at our group and asked who was present. Before I could introduce each team member, she looked at me in my long white coat and attending physician ID badge and remarked, “Clearly, you’re my nurse.” 

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