September 2013

One Last Sale

Judith Reichtein

“Did you sell the business yet?”

I marvel at my patient Jack: despite his breathlessness, he’s somehow managed to greet his wife Sara with a complete sentence. Given his condition, it’s truly amazing. 

Most of his lung function has been devastated by his forty-year, pack-a-day smoking habit; the rest has been demolished by cancer. The easy, automatic breathing he once took for granted is just a memory. He can’t even lie down without feeling like he’s suffocating. Propped up on pillows in his hospital bed, he struggles for every breath–pulling it in, forcing it out–his brow creased in a perpetual frown of concentration. 

Sara and Jack have been married for thirty-five years, since before he took over his father’s small shoe concession and turned it into a thriving business. 


Kristina X. Duan

It was a Monday morning in Chengdu, the capital city of China’s Sichuan province. I was a premedical student who had traveled here from the U.S. to do a six-week summer term abroad at People’s Hospital, one of Chengdu’s largest cancer centers.

As the child of Chinese-born parents, I’d always felt a special fascination for my parents’ strange, captivating homeland. In college, I seized the first opportunity to pursue medical studies in China alongside native students. I’d found myself immersed in a healthcare system that was fragmented, corrupt and riddled with problems stemming from overpopulation and limited resources. 

We Were Both New That Day

Bernadine Han

We were both new that day.

He had come for a new knee.
I was doing my first admission.

Suddenly he was short of breath.
He’d had a cough for a long time, yes,
with blood in it.

He decompensated,
and I watched him.

Saving My Appendix

Andrew T. Gray

The doctor was adamant. “This is America, not Sweden,” he told me. “We operate.” 

How did this happen to me? I wondered, looking at him across the ER exam room. How could I, a healthcare provider, not have insurance? 

I had woken up that morning with a mildly upset stomach. Nonetheless, I’d gone to my job (begun only six weeks earlier) as a physician assistant at a Beverly Hills HIV clinic. I’d seen patients until lunchtime, then attended a research meeting. The subject was a study of irritable bowel syndrome. 

“I need to be in this study,” I joked to a coworker. “My IBS is acting up.” 

I don’t have IBS, but I was indeed having crampy stomach pain. I continued to see patients until 3 pm, when the pain became steady: on a ten-point scale, I gave it a six. I left work early.

As I exited the building, my first thought was Freedom! I can get home early, relax, maybe take a nap…

Crawling into bed, however, I realized that my pain had coalesced in the right lower quadrant of my abdomen. Could it be appendicitis? 

Panic flooded me. After six weeks at my new job, I now qualified …

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