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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May 2023

My Alzheimer’s Story

My name is Lisa Burr. I am a family nurse practitioner, and have been for nearly three decades. I grew up in California, the “Sunshine State.”

In the 1960s, my dad, a military test pilot, was the first astronaut with NASA’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program, which pioneered crewed space stations as reconnaissance satellites. My mother was a beautiful model.

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Underneath It All

I was supposed to see Jane for abdominal pain, but within minutes of meeting her, she told me that her boyfriend hits her. Once, so hard that he fractured and dislocated her jaw. She has a lot of bruises, but only in areas covered by her clothes. To the unknowing, Jane appears neatly put together, whole. But, underneath it all, she is unraveling, coming undone.

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The Birthday Party

Forty years ago, I experienced a miracle—the first of many in my nursing career. I was about six months into my first nursing job, in the neonatal ICU at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. It was there that I met baby Jonathon, and it was his mother who made me a true believer.

Jonathon had come to us with severe kidney disease. He looked sickly: His skin was very pale—translucent even. He acted like a healthy infant, though, and as he got older, he actually smiled at us. But despite the doctors’ best efforts, his kidneys were barely functioning.

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Smiles

It feels like wading into cold ocean water. A bit of a shock, and then so refreshing. I step hesitantly out of my office, and then amble down the hallway toward the exam room to see my patient. Both of us will be unmasked. The natural state now requires getting used to all over again.

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Hard Questions

My routine clinic day was interrupted by a startling message. During a moment of extreme stress, a long-term patient of mine left a threatening voicemail on my colleague’s phone. The target of her anger was me. It was difficult to discern her garbled speech in the recording of her screaming, but I heard loud and clear that she intended to find me at my clinic and physically hurt me – or worse.

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Role Reversal

The year 2020 was a lot of things for a lot of people. Chaotic, exhausting, heartbreaking, hopeful. It was a year in which my immense privilege—as a healthy, educated white woman—protected me from much of the pain born by others.

And while it was many of those things (especially chaotic) for me, it was also the year I started medical school. The year I moved from LA to Austin, driving across California, Utah and Texas in the process. The year I read fifty-four fiction books to escape the monotony of lockdown.

And it was the year my dad died.

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