Month: June 2013

Joe the Handyman

Angela Yang

“Forty-two-year old male, chronic pain syndrome,” the chart reads. 

I’m a third-year medical student doing an elective at a physical medicine and rehabilitation clinic, and this is my first time seeing Joe. 

Sitting expectantly in the exam-room chair, he’s a gaunt man with a long face and dark tattoos down his arms. Wire-rimmed glasses, stringy ponytail, faded jeans and leather jacket complete the look. 

“Nice to meet you,” I say. “I’m Angela, a medical student. I’m doing a couple of weeks here with Dr. Ross, the chief physician.”

“Thank you, doc. I’m Joe.” He smiles, dark eyes twinkling, and I glimpse yellow-stained teeth. 

Probably from smoking, I think. 

Joe starts talking, jiggling his leg nervously.

“My car was towed yesterday. And these past two weeks have been tough. I got kicked out of my apartment, had no money for the bus, so I had to walk here today, five miles, for my pain meds.” 

He’s here for refills, I think wryly. Can I believe his story? Someone who’s walked five miles in this hot weather should look worse–especially if he’s in pain. Or am I passing judgment because of his greasy …

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What We Carry

Sandra Miller

When I was an intern, we carried everything.
We carried manuals and little personal notebooks, frayed and torn,
crammed with tiny bits of wisdom passed on by a senior or attending.
Yet when a midnight patient rolled in with a myocardial infarction
we didn’t look anything up because there were only four drugs we could use:
morphine for the crushing pain,
nitroglycerin to flush open the vessels,
lidocaine for rebellious rhythms,
and furosemide for sluggish fluids.
I’m old.
We had nothing to block the betas or the calcium channels,
nothing to inhibit the ACEs,
no fancy clot-dissolvers,
just the patient and the strip.
Some made it, some didn’t.
Our white coats carried splatters from blood and iodine and no one even noticed.

When people quit smoking, they just had to quit.
There were no nicotine substitutes,
no patch to stick on or gum to chew or spray to spritz or inhalers to sniff.
No varenicline or bupropion, just quit.
So many smoked, and so many died.
For a while I kept a list in my head of …

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The Pronouncement

Carl V. Tyler

I knew from last night’s house call that my patient Bessie’s time was near. All day long I’d felt the familiar churning inside, the sickly sweet combination of anticipated dread and anticipated relief. So when the phone rang while I was exercising at home, I wasn’t surprised. I quickly dropped the barbell weights to answer the call before it went to voice mail. 

It was Bessie’s daughter, Susan.

Illness 101

Madeline R. Sterling

My time as a medical student is quickly coming to an end. Later this month, along with hundreds of my fellow seniors across the country, I will receive a medical degree.

This past winter, with nearly four years of arduous study, countless examinations and numerous clinical rotations under my belt, I couldn’t help but think, Yes, I’m ready to be a doctor.

And then I became a patient.

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