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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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February 2024

Black in Medicine

Editor’s Note: This piece was a finalist in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

I was a third-year medical student, anxiously waiting for our morning conference to begin and quickly reviewing the questions that might be asked.

I had stepped into the conference room full of residents a few minutes prior, timidly asking if this was the correct location. An attending physician I’d met only once confirmed that I was in the right place and directed me to the front row of seats. As I sat down, I realized that I was the only medical student present. Fighting the urge to bolt from the room, I pulled out my mini notebook.

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I Will Never Forget

I will never forget the doctor my husband, Ralph, and I met with after Ralph had routine bloodwork that revealed an elevated white cell count. Dr. R glanced at the folder on his desk, pushed his glasses up on his nose, and said, “You have acute myelogenous leukemia. Your type is especially difficult to cure.”

Ralph sat stoically, eyes fastened on the framed diplomas on the wall.

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Be Careful

Though I hadn’t been paged and had plenty to do as the hospital’s palliative care attending physician on a busy weekend, I felt drawn to Harold’s room. His daughter was outside, locked in a nurse’s embrace, barely able to speak through her tears; her father had just taken his last breath.

“Don’t go in there right now,” she said to me. “My mom needs to be alone with my dad.”

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A Phony Heterosexual

In my first year as a premedical student at the University of Rochester, I began working as an EMT (emergency medical technician).

I enjoyed the work, but my interactions with patients were necessarily fast-paced and fleeting. In September of my senior year, I explored a different side of medicine by volunteering at a local hospice house; there, engaging with patients and hearing their stories over time was a critical element of care.

Among the hospice patients, I connected especially to Jackson, a man in his sixties. Jackson’s voice, interests and punk style reminded me of my own grandfather, who had passed away just a year earlier.

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Coping with Coldness

My family and friends constantly tease me about my state of perpetual coldness.  On the mildest winter day or even a chilly summer one, I will don a thermal shirt, sweatshirt, and hoodie, often under a coat of a varying degree of warmth. I am the only theater usher who does her job while wearing an outdoor coat, even though the dress code for ushers is a white top with black pants.

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He shunned the sunshine. He also refused to come into the mobile medical van where we saw patients. He’d been sitting on the curb, across the street from the van, in the shade, every day for a week. The van’s male physician and nurse had been unable to entice him to step into the van for an exam, to talk with them, or to accept anything from them. Maybe a woman would have more luck? So I went over to him.

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February More Voices: Cold

Dear readers,

Warren Holleman, one of our More Voices editors, suggested Cold as a theme for February. (Warren lives in Houston–recall the winter storms of February 2021 that crippled the Texas power grid, subjecting millions of households to freezing temperatures and killing hundreds.)

Dana Grossman, our other More Voices editor, jumped on board with Warren’s suggestion. (Dana lives in Vermont–no further explanation necessary.)

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