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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March 2024

The Portal

“Hello?” I answered the yellow phone with its coiled cord dangling from the kitchen wall. To my surprise, my doctor was calling ME, a seventh grader, with results of my blood tests. (Mono.) I still recall my shock that a doctor – practically a celebrity! – would call my home. Shouldn’t his staff be calling?

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Don, 1979

It’s 3:00 am. Deep in the bowels of the hospital, bright fluorescent lights softly buzz overhead in the windowless snack bar, where a row of vending machines give off a low hum.

Don, my sixteen-year-old patient, and I sit huddled in orange plastic chairs at a tiny Formica table. He is ranting, and I am listening. Neither of us can sleep. Don is awake because he is mad at the world, and I’m awake because I’m the pediatric resident on call.

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When the Doctor Lacks Compassion

It was a lump in my groin, discovered in the shower, that brought me to the doctor’s office. “Likely a hernia,” he said. “Let’s schedule surgery.” He seemed calm and unworried, and I expected the best.

When the phone rang several days post-surgery, he said, “I’m sorry to tell you it’s cancer: non-Hodgkins lymphoma.” I dropped the phone on the floor and started to scream—not scream but howl. I was 37 and had two young girls. His words pierced me as if I were on a firing line. Am I going to die? stampeded through my brain.

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My Hardest Words

My father exhibited some goofy language errors during a phone conversation, substituting sound-alike words two to three times over a ten-minute period. I called my brother, and we made a seventy-minute drive to take him to the emergency room. The resident physician suspected a stroke, and Dad went for an MRI. Stroke seemed like a pipedream as his symptoms were not clear. The MRI came back, and the resident back-pedaled as the new findings looked more like tumor than stroke. I confirmed what part of the brain was involved, his risk for seizure, and the follow-up treatment plan.

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Editor’s Note: This piece was awarded an honorable mention in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

In the summer between second and third grade, when I was eight, I first realized that it was safer for me to hide my surgical scars.

I had two huge scars starting at my hip joints and running halfway down my outer thighs. They were “Dr. Frankenstein” scars, with obvious cross-hatches that couldn’t be missed when I wore shorts or bathing suits.

That summer, my scars brought odd looks and comments from both children and adults.

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“I know it wasn’t really your fault, but I blame you on some level,” said my patient Aisha, sounding husky over the phone. “I’m working on forgiving you, but I’m not there yet.”

Tears sprang to my eyes, but I kept my voice steady as I replied, “I understand. I’m sorry about my role in what happened. Please let me know if you ever feel ready to come back to see me, but I can refer you to another doctor in the meantime.”

What had I done to deserve such harsh words? I hadn’t prevented her traumatic childbirth experience.

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Self Treatment

His broad, open smile met me as I walked into the exam room. I noticed his feet didn’t quite reach the floor, and he was wearing sandals. His feet were wide and squarish, the type of feet one would get from going barefoot their entire life. The type of feet my yoga teacher always asked us to emulate with toes spread wide and space between each digit.

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