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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August 2023

Your First Summer On Earth: A Letter to My Baby

Your first summer on Earth was the hottest ever on record. I was admitted to the hospital during a cold, early spring, and by the time you were released from the NICU on Easter Monday, it felt like summer already. I had visions of spending full days outdoors, encouraging a love of nature from the very beginning, but it was impossible to spend time outdoors after 9:00 a.m. without both of us overheating.

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The Vital Sign

The other day, our air-conditioner went out. We live in Austin, Texas, so the house quickly became an oven. Opening the windows and turning on fans didn’t help, since the outdoor temperature was over 100 degrees F.  The situation was not just an inconvenience—it required urgent action. We were able to get the air conditioner fixed, but it was expensive. We have resources. Others do not.

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The Toll of Caring

Maybe I can adopt her?

This thought awakened me from my sleep. Earlier in the day, I had treated a little girl, Carla, who was brave enough to tell me about the horrible abuse and neglect she’d suffered, and whose skin and bones were ravaged with injuries that silently told the same traumatic story. Recalling these details, which I had carefully documented, I understood that I’d fulfilled my professional role, but wondered if I could do more.

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“Sure, it’s not like I’ve got a busy day.”

The tiny woman with translucent skin smiled up at me from her hospital bed. Finally, I’d successfully recruited another study participant. But, she informed me, “No research should be done without proper introductions.” The woman before me shook off her role as Participant #14 and became simply who she was. Let’s call her Eleanor.

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Imposter Syndrome

According to a 2020 study, up to 82 percent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. For some, the experience is fleeting; for others, it may hover in the background for a long time without ever being identified. That was the case with me.

Not many girls living in Pakistan get the opportunity to chase their ambitions as I have done. I was fortunate that my parents were more progressive than many: They always emphasized the importance of a woman’s financial independence and made sure I embraced every learning opportunity. When I decided to pursue medicine, though, they were hesitant, knowing that it would be a long, bumpy road.

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Heat Advisory

“Heat advisory in effect 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.” The text from the city emergency alert system lit up my phone screen. A little while later, I saw a Facebook post from Denis Phillips, chief meteorologist for ABC News, telling Floridians this was only the second time in over 20 years that a heat advisory had been issued. I was scheduled to be the preceptor on a street medicine shift that night. My first reaction was regret at having signed up for an August “street run,” as we called it. My second was remembering that the run would be canceled without a preceptor—so, heat advisory or not, I knew I had to keep my commitment.

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My Mother’s Keeper

It is a mitzvah to take care of your parents: “Honor thy father and thy mother.” And caring for people comes naturally to me. I’m a physician; this is what I do.

But when my father looked to me to cure my eighty-five-year-old mother’s dementia, saying, “You’re the doctor! Help her!” I knew he was asking too much.

And yet. How could I stand idly by while my mother’s mental acuity slowly drained away?

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