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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Stories

What’s Wrong With You?

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

“What’s wrong with you?”

The words cut through my mind and hit me in the gut. My fragile fifteen-year-old ego splintered like a glass cup slipping through fingers onto hardwood.

Tears welled up, and my lips pursed, ready to respond. But I couldn’t find the words—for in that moment, I truly knew that I was broken, I was ugly, I was wrong. And even my mother knew it.

What’s Wrong With You? Read More »

Things I Did While Waiting for My Husband’s MRI to Happen

1. Reread the stern words, hammered into a sterile printout. The scope results: a scythe. Images of an alien inhabiting his inner world.

2. Notice the footprints on our living-room floor. Briefly consider cleaning.

3. Three breaths later. Hug him. Hug the kids. Hug myself. Hug the dogs. Tilt my head when he says that he doesn’t want to hug right now.

Things I Did While Waiting for My Husband’s MRI to Happen Read More »

Another Way to Listen

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

“David, from this moment forward, you’ll need to listen with your heart.”

It’s been forty years since I heard these words, but they ring as clearly in my mind as if it were yesterday.

My night nurse, Jill, whispered them into my left ear—the only one still able to hear after my fourteen-hour brain surgery to remove a tangerine-sized growth from the acoustic nerve, which affects hearing and balance.

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Over the Rainbow

Two days after the bus crash, I died. It was March 1996. A bus traveling at 60 mph had hit the car I was in, shattering my fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae and instantly paralyzing me from the shoulders down.

I was only twenty years old, and father to a one-year-old son. I spent the following forty-eight hours at a nearby hospital, on life support in the ICU. I couldn’t speak or breathe on my own.

I survived those two days on a sense of faith, expressed in a mantra: This is just temporary.

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Hot Water Cures (Almost) Everything

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

If, like my parents, you had immigrated across the world to America with only $200 to your name, feeling hesitant to speak whenever you needed something for fear of people doubting your intellect, you might develop a certain degree of wary self-reliance.

My parents have had to fight for everything they’ve achieved here, including voices that would be heeded despite their accents, and equal treatment despite looking different.

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Hearing Impaired

“Pick up the phone, Mom,” I said, dashing into the kitchen after answering our landline in the living room.

“Who is it?” she asked.

“Dunno. I can’t understand what they’re saying,” I said.

When she picked up the receiver, the caller—her father—got right to the point: “She can’t hear.”

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Many Shades of Different

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

Having stage IV cancer at twenty-one made me different from my peers.

I was already different: By the eighth grade, due to my mother’s quest for greener pastures, I’d attended twelve schools, many of them outside of the US. I was a Yankee when my family lived in Australia, but also when we lived in Florida. I was a gringa when we lived in Mexico, then in Peru. In places where English was spoken, I stood out because of my accent. In places where Spanish was spoken, although I became quite fluent, I was clearly a foreigner.

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Lessons From My Teachers

In July 2003, a few days after I had started service as inpatient attending pediatric cardiologist at Lutheran General Children’s Hospital, the neonatologists, nurses and I met with Jenni and Tony to discuss their daughter Grace’s health status.

Grace, now two and a half weeks old, had seemed normal at birth. After a few hours, her skin color had turned blue: Her oxygen level was dangerously low. She’d been whisked off to the neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU), where tests showed that her heart function was poor due to high blood pressure in her lungs. Her heart and lungs began to fail, so we’d placed her on a heart-lung machine (ECMO) for sixteen days. Now taken off the machine, she was breathing with the help of a ventilator.

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“How Long Have You Had These Symptoms, Doctor?”

“How long have you had these symptoms?”

Dr. Quantrell’s tone was kind and inquisitive, but with the CT scan on the computer between us displaying a two-centimeter kidney stone, I couldn’t help hearing: How long have you been ignoring this problem?

Much has been written about the experience of doctor as patient. Like many of my colleagues before me, I’d fallen into the trap of trying to diagnose myself before calling my family physician.

“How Long Have You Had These Symptoms, Doctor?” Read More »

Nontraditional

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

I have always been different. As a nurse I was a late bloomer, though I’d always felt passionately drawn to the profession.

I was born to nurse. This was evident even when I was a young child; I bathed my grandmother’s amputated leg while the other kids played in the yard. Although I had planned to go to nursing school after graduation, I took a seventeen-year detour and ultimately entered as a nontraditional student.

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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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Scars

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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