Shortly after I graduated from high school and a few days after I turned eighteen on August 8, 1965, I entered the hospital for surgery. A chronic pain on the left side of my abdomen had intensified, making it impossible for me to leave my bed.
“You will get better,” the physician told my brother. My brother was younger than I am now when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I don’t think even he believed the doctor, or he wouldn’t have asked me to take care of everything.
One autumn morning, a woman called the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center on Long Island, asking to speak with me.
In more than ten years as the department’s director, I’ve received countless phone calls, but this one instantly got my attention.
“She says that she was your patient in 1984,” said my assistant, Eileen. “Her name is Anne–“
“Jones,” I said instantly.
“You don’t remember her, do you?” Eileen exclaimed.
“I certainly do,” I said. “The hospital opened this unit on Valentine’s Day, 1984, and she was the first child admitted. How could I ever forget?”
About the artist:
Marla Lukofsky is a standup comedian, inspirational speaker, jazz singer, cancer survivor and writer. Her stories have been published in various narrative medicine journals, including Cell2Soul and Health Story Collaborative. With two TEDx Talks to her credit, Marla continues to share her experiences in the hopes of helping others.
About the artwork:
“I drew ‘I Love Women’ while touring the new Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where I was living. At the end of the tour, there was an art room with numerous drawing supplies on easels. A sign requested that each visitor experience being an artist by putting something down on the provided paper. This is what came out of me.
“One month later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Interesting that this woman I drew, one month prior, had one breast and was bald. Talk about foreshadowing!”
This is a story of two deaths. That these patients’ stories intersected on the same morning, in the same building, in two adjacent rooms, has left me thinking about them now that the day is almost done.
I was surprised to see Mrs. Stevens’ name on my schedule today. She came to the office last week, and I felt sure that she’d be too weak for another visit. But I was glad she’d made it, as I’ve become quite fond of her.
She’s seventy, and dying of metastatic lung cancer. She’s a lifelong smoker, but at this point I’m not worried about cause and effect, accountability and responsibility. None of that changes what I must do now as her physician.
is a battlefield
of scar tissue
and hardened walls
So certain the tumor
in his throat would take him
to his knees, wrench his life away,
they brought forth
the beast…that fairy tale
of modern medicine
gone wrong…and now