Month: July 2012

An Orphan’s Tale

Peter Ferrarone

At the outset, I confess that I have no experience in the medical field. I’m not a doctor or a nurse; I’m a recent college graduate, a writer and someone who’s interested in the world. And, all last summer, I was a volunteer in Uganda. 

I’d met a Ugandan priest who was visiting the States on a lecture tour. He described his work overseeing an orphanage located in Western Uganda, a day’s bus ride from Rwanda and Kenya. When he invited me to go and help out there, I accepted.

Upon arriving, I discovered that the orphanage was a small, broken-down concrete house perched on a hill above a muddy soccer field. The building had four bedrooms and no running water. The yard featured a wandering mountain goat and a smelly outhouse with a faulty latch. 

Fifteen orphans lived there–eight girls and seven boys, ages eight to twenty-one. In summer, when the schools let out, as many as ten more children came to stay. 

Life at the orphanage ran along unusual lines: There were no adults on hand, so the oldest orphans …

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Kennet Square Clinic

Jessica Bloom

The young woman’s daughter
is shy and beautiful.

Her mother comes to the clinic 
with vague complaints:
headache, stomach pain,
fatigue, weakness.
A small, sturdy woman
with an anxious face,
her square jaw is just a bit
bigger on the left. I picture 
the long-healed fracture
in her jutting mandible,
sealed beneath unbroken skin
the color of wheat fields.

Her story is slow to come out.
Many of the patients here
migrate from Mexico each year
to work on the mushroom farms.
I imagine the smell of wet dirt,
the cool, shadowy barns
with stacked rows of wooden pallets,
soft, white globes emerging
out of black soil.
I do not know the nature
of their toil, but I know
the weak resistance,
the fragile release,
of pulling a mushroom
from the earth.

I understand only pieces
of her rapid Spanish, but hear
the edgy thread of despair
that unravels in her voice,
suggesting the tight fist of her will
in which she holds her self-control.

The woman admits 
to feeling depressed.
She believes her husband
drinks too much,
and has been unfaithful.
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Cadaver Happy Face

Rachel Willis

Sitting with my mother in a white-walled exam room, awaiting the surgeon’s arrival, I felt happy. 

Earlier this spring, I’d landed hard on one leg during a volleyball game and collapsed, hearing my knee make a terrible cracking sound, like all ten knuckles firing off. When I resumed playing, after several weeks of rehab, it happened again. 

Now we were awaiting the MRI results.

You’d think I’d be nervous. I was seventeen, college-bound on a full-ride volleyball scholarship. Would this injury jeopardize that? But I felt glad–and touched with a kind of glamour. During hundreds of boring or grueling practices, I’d longed to sprain an ankle or break a leg. Now I had an iron-clad excuse to duck the huge workout packet my college coach had sent. 

My doctor bounded in. A tall African-American man in his fifties, with white hair and beard, he radiated energy. 

I liked him–his energy, the contrast of his bright white hair and brilliant smile with his dark skin. 

Swiftly, he pulled an MRI image from its envelope, clipped it to a board and pointed. 

“That,” he …

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July Intern–Taking Off My New White Coat

Heustein Sy

I became a doctor of internal medicine in my home country, the Philippines, in 2005. The following year, I immigrated to the United States. In order to practice medicine here, I must complete one more journey–a three-year medical residency in the U.S.

My first week at the hospital has been a hectic blur–one task right after another. I’ve been existing on minimal amounts of sleep, food and social contact and maximum amounts of coffee.

Inside my head, though, this week has also been all about me. How lucky I was to have been picked for this coveted residency in this highly regarded hospital! How can I regain my rusty diagnostic skills? How do I look in my new white lab coat?

Rushing here and there, checking on lab results, taking comprehensive histories from patients, doing my best not to miss a single differential in the most ordinary cases and trying to impress my seniors, I’ve felt a bit like Superman: I’m saving lives!

At times, I’ve slipped into a state of mind where every patient becomes just a room number and every diagnosis just a billing code with its corresponding treatment algorithms. When I’m in that zone, time passes quickly. …

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