Month: May 2009

Piece of Work

Jennifer Frank

“You’re a real piece of work!” he spat at me. He was a patient named Martin; I was the supervising physician, trying to role-model for a second-year resident how to conduct a difficult conversation with patients like this. 

So far, not so good.

At first glance, Martin seemed an ordinary-looking older man, with close-cut gray hair and plain-framed eyeglasses. But I was struck by his scowl–he was expecting an argument, perhaps because during his interview with the resident he’d already encountered some pushback. 

He’d brought a long list of laboratory tests that his biofeedback “doctor” had instructed him to get, saying that his fatigue and other symptoms were caused by “adrenal dysfunction.”

I scanned the list–thyroid, blood count, chemistries, vitamins, adrenal function. “Testing for vitamins,” I thought. “Are they kidding?” Normally, we test for only a small handful of vitamins; would our lab even know how to test for the others? 

Outwardly, I tried to look neutral. “If I order a lot of tests, it’s statistically very likely that one will come back abnormal,” I said. “That may not indicate a real problem; it could only mean that you’ll end up having more tests.”

“I want all of …

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Failure to Thrive

My matched set of nonagenarians 

is almost two hundred years old
and nearing escape velocity.
They are failing to thrive with a vengeance.

They have outlived everyone
except the powers of attorney
for whom they are a source of consternation.

Their constipation is prune-proof.
They scratch where it itches till it bleeds 
and call on me to staunch the bleeding. 

They can’t recall our earnest conversations.
Adult Protective Services 
elicits 

their indignation reflex. They ready, aim
and fire 
their walkers at the social worker.

Pride goes before their falls.
They hoard. 
In their home every room is attic.

Neither odor nor order matters.
Thank goodness you’re here they say
and then berate me. 

It’s true.
I don’t know what to do.
I meet the lawyer at the bedside.

I meet the notary at the bedside.
We arrange for the funeral home 
to call me at home.

By the end their ashes plus the urn
will weigh more than they did.
The wind always knows what to do.

About the poet: 

Daniel Becker practices and teaches general internal medicine and palliative care at the University of Virginia School of Medicine where he also edits the on-line journal Hospital Drive. In August …

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Counting Cards

Alexandra Godfrey

Once again, I see a still heart. As I stare at the fetal monitor, I search for signs of life. The screen flickers; my son’s heart does not.

The last time I saw him, he looked happy–content in his life-bubble. As he turned somersaults, he waved at me. I had thought he was saying hello, but I realize now that he was waving goodbye.

Soon I must deliver his still form into the world. My labor will be difficult–his cries exchanged for my tears; his body, small and membranous, fitting into my one hand.

This is not what I had envisioned. I had dreamt of my son’s vitality, not his mortality. I contemplate the suffering–is there no way to tally up the trauma?

For the third time, I am faced with the loss of a child, and experience is not making it any easier. 

When my first child was born, he too had a still heart. As he was rushed away, I was asked to give him a name. I called him Ben.

Life almost evaded him. Ben was born with a complex congenital heart defect that affects one baby in ten thousand. Without emergency cardiac surgery, the …

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Each Day, Same Story

Jennifer Reckrey

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Reckrey is a family medicine resident in New York City. Each week, while she was an intern, she recorded some of her experiences as a brand-new doctor.

I have been his primary doctor for the entire three weeks he has been on the hospital floor. Sometimes he drives me crazy. Once or twice I’ve asked my senior resident to take over for a bit so I can hide out, catch my breath and try to get some of my other work done. Yet despite his daily demands and my hours of exasperation, I have never felt this connected to a patient before.

Over these weeks, I have watched his health slowly but steadily deteriorate. He first came to the hospital because his home oxygen wasn’t helping as much as usual when he got short of breath while walking. A week later he needed his oxygen whenever he felt anxious. Now he’s short of breath all the time. Without a face mask constantly pumping pure oxygen, his skin turns ashy purple and he slowly becomes agitated, then delirious. 

When I got to work this Sunday morning, the night team told me that overnight he had refused …

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Does the Buddha Play Pool?

Come Medicine Buddha

Come shine your rays upon me
Penetrate deep within my body
To quell my queasy stomach
And soothe my aching bones.

Let those golden arrows
Shoot deep within my frame
Extinguishing the round tumors
That live inside of me.

Like a pool cue poised and ready
Aim straight for the triangle
Number 6 in right side pocket
Red 4 to far left corner.

Knocking away each colored ball
Dropping steadily into the pockets
Clearing away the hard assortment
Until only white and black remain.

The 8 ball holding fast
White blood cell gearing up.

And, then, a final shot–and POP!
No more colored balls
The table’s cleared. 

About the poet: 

Lenora Lapidus is an attorney and the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. She litigates and engages in advocacy in courts throughout the United States and in international human-rights forums. Her work addresses economic justice, violence against women, educational equity and women and girls in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. She has written and read poetry for many years. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and daughter. 

About the poem: 

This poem was written shortly after I was …

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