October 2016

Another Night in the ER

The November snowstorm is a surprise. The ER will be full of cold and homeless, coming for a meal and a place to rest.

I see the ones who say they are suicidal. That claim guarantees an overnight: a metal bed with a black foam pad, a clean sheet, turkey on white wrapped in cellophane and, if there’s any left, a precious six-pack of Oreos.

What If I Die Now?

The mood was grim in our house on this night, as it always was when my mother was at her sickest. My mother was suffering at the hands of what I know now to be systemic rheumatoid arthritis: the pain was clearly eating up her soul and body alike.
I looked at her as I helped with her evening pills, hoping they would bring some magic to lift the cloud hanging above us. I looked at her hands, so deformed by this monster of a disease, and I feared I might cry in front of her. I knew she wouldn’t like this at all but I couldn’t shake the voice of her saying that she thought she would die tonight. Or did she say “wished”?
I was twelve years old at the time and the meaning was probably lost to me. She did in fact catch the teary look on my face, and truly like a mother she knew what was on my mind. “What if I die now, would it be so bad?” she asked. I mumbled something to the effect that this was not happening but of course evaded the real question.

Stories on Hold

Ms. Darcey had been my patient for over four years. She was one of those fortunate few who made it to the doctor’s office only for their yearly physical exam. One day she showed up unexpectedly, in a wheelchair, her head tilted to one side. She had arrived at the diagnosis before I could make an attempt.

We Got the Call

Note to reader: The following is a verbatim transcription of what I posted to my blog the night we got the call from the liver team that they’d found a viable donor for my 11-year-old daughter who, at the time, had a 24 cm tumor which spread from her portal vein to her liver. 

Paying It Forward

Caroline Wellbery

In the middle of a five-way thoroughfare intersection, with the early-morning sun’s glare on my windshield, I hit the curb of the median and blew out my left front tire. Amid stopped traffic, I ran to collect my escaped hubcap, whose silver eye stared helplessly from among the automotive debris of previous accidents.

A policeman blocked the lanes until I could pilot my car into the gas station on the other side of the street. The attendant perched behind the bulletproof window told me that his mechanics wouldn’t be in until 9:00 am. I called the clinic to say I’d be late to work, but no one picked up the phone.

Patience Ravindran BW


Remya Tharackal Ravindran

About the artist: 

Remya Tharackal Ravindran is an internist/geriatrician based in Massachusetts. “Photography is my dose of meditation in action. It straps me to the present moment and forces me to look, rather than merely see. Sometimes we are blinded to things that are staring us in the face, until we begin to ‘look.’”

About the artwork:

“This picture was taken during a regular office visit. This puppy, the constant companion of one of my disabled patients, was snug in the handbag as usual, waiting beside the patient’s daughter. Though the puppy’s stomach was growling with hunger, it stayed in the bag throughout the visit, waiting for me to finish the physical exam. Perhaps her patience with the doctor was a reflection of her devotion to her ‘master.’ “

Visuals editor:

Justin Sanders

Halloween Heartache

It was one hour past midnight, late enough that even the college students who lived in the apartment building across the street had changed their Halloween costumes for pajamas, turned off their lights and fallen into a sugar-induced sleep. I lay in bed, remembering the Halloweens of my youth when Dad and I had gone trick-or-treating together. He had protected me from the goblins, witches and ghosts that had roamed the streets of our neighborhood, and I had shared with him some of the candy I accumulated.

His Favorite Time

I had known since the beginning that it would happen at night, his favorite time. He had always preferred the peace of darkness to the bustle of day. How many times had I woken up to find him still working at his desk? How many times had I left for work in the morning shortly after giving him a good-sleep kiss?

All Kinds of Dark

4 a.m.

If I wake up in the middle of the night, that’s what time it will be, give or take 15 minutes: 4 a.m. No matter what the season, it’s dark at that time of night, it’s lonely, even the cats are snoring. If a window is open, I can hear if an owl, a coyote or, rarely, a whippoorwill or chuck-will’s-widow is crying into the night. If it’s a warm autumn night, I can hear if passing whitetail bucks grunt or click while tracking does.

The People a Doctor Worries About

The middle of the night is when I worry about a patient like Olevia, whose oldest son was shot and killed at the age of 23. He left behind his baby mama and his two baby girls. Olevia didn’t have enough money for his funeral expenses, so she had to promise to pay in installments over the course of the next two years. So she gets a reminder of his death every month in the form of a bill.

The Baby Monitor

My parents slept together in the room next to mine for the last three years. They passed away this spring within three weeks of each other.
I invaded their privacy at night because I was so afraid I’d miss them gasping for breath or crying out in pain. I bought a baby monitor. 
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