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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 2022

July More Voice — Abortion: Then and Now

Dear Pulse readers,

About a dozen years ago, a fourteen-year-old teenager presented to me with some vague symptoms. She was accompanied by her aunt.

The symptoms included abdominal discomfort. I asked to speak with her alone and asked if she’d ever had sexual relations. She looked puzzled, as if she didn’t quite know what that meant. “No,” she said. She seemed so young and lacking in life experience that I believed her.

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Missed Shot

“You’d better sit down,” says the neighbor of a friend, a voice I hardly recognize over the phone. On automatic pilot, I grab the nearest chair.


“S. shot herself.”

“What?” Shock throws me off balance, even with four legs and a wooden seat under me.

“S. bought a gun and shot herself last night on the patio outside the kitchen, leaving a trail of notes for B. to find while he was out walking the dog.”

I can’t keep up with all this information.

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Love, Marriage and Parkinson’s

In 2015, while walking with my wife, Jody, in our neighborhood, I suddenly found myself bent over and taking tiny, rapid, repetitive steps. I knew I was moving too fast, but could not stop myself. Jody thought I was kidding—until the moment I fell down on a neighbor’s lawn.

A passing driver slowed down to ask if I was okay. I was all right, but thought the experience odd.

I’d never heard the word “festination” (a walking gait characterized by involuntary acceleration) until I saw a neurologist friend a week later.

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Memories of Columbine

Every school shooting takes me back to April 1999.

I was a medical student in Denver, Colorado, when the Columbine High School shooting occurred very nearby. The recurrent media coverage of mass shootings continually reignites the horror and shock of that day; several of my classmates had graduated from Columbine, others cared for the wounded.

With every school shooting since, I wonder, how is it we can’t move forward? My mind replays the scenes from Columbine—a student dangling from a window, the terror of those running from the scene, the memorial of white crosses on a hill.

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Sleeping Now

“I can’t sleep,” I repeatedly told my PCP. I told him I would lie in bed at night, my mind racing from one topic to another: work, errands, kids, pets, yardwork. I would turn the light back on and play solitaire until my eyes were blurry, then give sleeping another try. Getting up at 4:00 a.m. was usual for me, which meant getting to sleep between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. was essential.

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A Routine Clinic Session

I open the door, belt out a “hello,” and peer at the patient seated in the exam room I’ve just entered. My gaze is drawn to a homemade button pinned to their jacket and then to their T-shirt. Both depict a photo of their loved one who was a victim of gun violence. The victim’s dates of birth and death are imprinted below the photo. A quick mental subtraction reveals a life ended far too soon.

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Doing the Math

“I can’t do it—I’ll die!”

Veronica is in tears.

I’m a family physician, working in a pain-management clinic in the Bronx. As Veronica’s doctor, I’ve asked her to see me to discuss coming off her opioid medications. It’s part of a clinic-wide initiative to reassess using these medications long-term with patients who have chronic pain.

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Pulling Away

Left alone, feeling a tenuous thread stretching taut skin over adipose tissue and tender flesh—pink, vulnerable womb empty; umbilicus severed; blood dried and brown. Perspiration beads on my brow, my breasts are heavy with milk. The letdown eases the waning contractions, starts to erase my recent memory of pain.

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Guns Beget Guns

Joanna has always been more dramatic than my other patients, but this time she seemed so much more distressed and fidgety than before. I had to ask, “How are things at home?” That was her cue to ask me to bring in my medical assistant, who has now become her friend, to help with translation. She did not want me to misinterpret anything she told me, in her broken English. And so we switched to Spanish.

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She Loved Her Baby

I was a second-year ob-gyn resident, back in the mid-1980s, when I met her in the clinic. She stood out because she could speak English—Queen’s English, to boot. She was friendly and happy. She anticipated her delivery with joy. I saw her several times in the clinic and again in the labor room, when we celebrated her son’s birth.

But here’s what she didn’t tell me: She had been a sex worker.

She Loved Her Baby Read More »

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