Month: October 2018


I sat in the exam room with Bill, who was here for HIV treatment. Staying on medication was important. It would make HIV undetectable in his blood, reverse his immune system damage and prevent the development of resistance to medications.

“In the past month, how many doses have you missed?”

He met my gaze. “None. I take them every day.”

Bill’s labs said otherwise. His virus level remained high. His pharmacy said he hadn’t picked up his medication in two months.

Notes From the Pain Committee Meeting

Pam Kress-Dunn ~

She was always my favorite nurse, her smile
genuine as I took my place at the table, my role
to supply the research and stats they might need
on the floor, or in preop. The chronic migraine
I brought along was my little secret, my inside joke
every time the talk turned to pain scales
and nerve blocks, the bright lights and overheads
nothing I couldn’t live through.

Her quiet story began and I sat up straight, stricken
with a thunderclap only I could hear.
Sometimes, she told us, people wake up before the anesthetic
wears off. They can’t move, can’t talk, can’t even
open their eyes to show me their fear.
Somehow, she knows.

Parker Hospital sketches 1

Hospital Sketches

Margaret Adams Parker

About the artist:

Margaret Adams Paker has been a working artist for nearly forty years, and for the last three years served with the hospital chaplaincy as a patient companion to the critically ill and dying. As a patient companion, she sits with patients and their families for however long they’d like.


About the artwork:

“This is one of a series of occasional sketches based on my experiences working with the hospital chaplaincy. These drawings, made long after I have left the wards, are not portraits of specific patients but are a record of their pain and suffering, their courage and dignity and–sometimes–their surprising beauty.”

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

The Real Doctor

When starting residency, my husband, son and I moved in with my in-laws while awaiting closing on our house.

My father-in-law, a brilliant and respected professor at a small local college, was frequently contacted at home by students, faculty and staff. On my first night of residency “home call” (pre-cell phone), I answered the house phone and received a request to speak to Dr. Dodson.

Of Course I Knew

It was midway through a crazy-busy Monday morning in the office: a full schedule plus two urgent walk-ins. I was starting to pray for a no-show to help me get caught up.

Roger was my next patient, a 70-year-old man with hypertension and diabetes, a long-time patient who had not been in for a while. Feeling the pressure of my busy schedule, I decided to skip my usual routine of looking over the recent encounters and studies in the chart before going into Roger’s exam room. I knocked, entered and greeted him with a smile, handshake and, “Nice to see you, Roger. I hope you have been feeling well since your last visit.”


Why did I avoid science and math in college? Why did I feel my successes in high school were somehow a fraud? When I earned a B.A. in American Studies and a Masters in City Planning, these did not feel fraudulent. They made sense: I cared about civil rights and social equity.

As for my undergraduate premed work, I viewed it as an experiment. If I didn’t make it to medical school, I still had my former career, even if I had decided it was one that would not fulfill me. My wonderful grandfather told me, “If you can’t see yourself happy in 30 years, leave!” He told me his own story: “When your grandmother was pregnant with your mother, and it was a recession, I was at lunch with a friend. I told him it was not the job for me. I did not even go back for my hat!”

I Faked It and Eventually Made It

When my niece was three years old, I told her to go hide. She turned around and laughed, certain that if she couldn’t see me then, she too, must be concealed. 

A flashback to medical school: 6:00 a.m. surgery rounds. Pimping or, in proper terms, the Socratic method. My kryptonite.

The Pen Guy


The resident leading our team was brilliant. He rarely needed help or correction. He developed threads and insights that gave me the rare sensation of delight that comes from seeing a mind at work far above the crowd I am standing in. There was little work to do in supervision.

When he asked me for help with the Pen Guy–what his family called him–I paused and then nodded. Perhaps he saw me falter.

Curtain Call

Every day I become a player on Shakespeare’s stage. I get up, do my  ablutions, and then go about my business: writing; teaching part-time at the local university; strolling through the tree-lined neighborhood; walking to the library to replenish my supply of books; and, napping, watching television and napping again. I smile at students and colleagues, bid pedestrians a good day, and share a book recommendation with the librarian.

It is all an act: a pretense.

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