Month: January 2019

A Patient’s Vow to Improve Himself

A middle-aged man, holding a cloth bag, stood in the doorway to my intensive care unit. In a soft voice, he said, “Umm, I was a patient here a couple of months ago. Remember me?”
I did indeed recognize him, and a number of scenes flashed through my mind. Of a forty-five year old patient, lying motionless on the hospital bed, still under general anesthesia after emergency heart surgery. Of the ventilator breathing for him. Of overhead warming lights slowly bringing his body temperature back up to normal. Of his blood pressure spiking high then dipping low. Of lethal ventricular arrythmias appearing on the monitor and of the heart surgeon’s and the nurses’ feverish efforts to correct them. Of lots of IV medications. Of his chest tube cylinders filling up with uncontrolled bleeding. Of wide-open infusions of IV fluids, protein solutions, and the patient’s own cell savers to build up his blood volume. Of still more plasma and blood products going in. Of talk about taking the patient back to the operating room. Of the worried look on his wife’s face as I told her, “Sorry, you can’t come back for visiting hours. Your husband’s not stable yet.”

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The Man Who Handed Me His Poop


Allie Gips ~

In broken English, against the backdrop of the emergency department’s chaos and clatter, Mr. Simon relayed his story: unintentional weight loss, gradually yellowing skin, weeks of constipation. He punctuated his list of devastating symptoms with laughter–exaggerated but genuine guffaws.

Over the next few days, as the medical student responsible for his care, I was also responsible for handing him piece after piece of bad news. An obstructing gallstone in his bile duct. Actually, an obstructing mass. Likely a malignancy. Chemo. Radiation.

With each update, he would grin. And then he would laugh.

Pet Therapy

Renusha Indralingam

About the artist:

Renusha Indralingam is a graduate of Yale University, where she studied molecular biology and film. She loves to explore the intersection of storytelling, visuals and medicine, with a focus on the importance of narrative in a medical setting. She has worked and volunteered in hospices and hospitals in Florida, Connecticut and Alaska.

About the artwork:

“While working on the long term care unit of an Alaskan community hospital, we tried many different forms of therapy with our residents: art therapy, aromatherapy, acoustic therapy. Nothing would bring a smile to our residents’ faces like pet therapy. Local dog owners would bring in their pets and let them soak up all the petting, treats and love the residents could give. Many people find pitbulls intimidating or frightening, but not one of our residents was scared; they just thought of her as a ‘big baby.’ “

Visuals editor:

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The OR in Promise

Lydia Flores ~

a paper gown, an intravenous tube and silence greater than my symptoms
sterile sheets speak my fear & insecurity saying will you be there with me
come back after the anesthesia has broken up with me and hold me

could you love a cure that hasn’t found itself yet? will your grace go down
with me weeping and swinging because time is spilling its sand and I am
the ocean afraid to leave?

When the machine goes beep, beep–beep long note
and my body lets go of the hold on my soul
the physician notes the time of my go, will you sigh so I know

A Renaissance

“One of these days, someone is going to straighten you out!”

Have you ever heard these words? Have they ever been said to you or someone you know? Never did I expect to experience them late in my life in a different way than their usual, figurative meaning. But thanks to the gifted hands of a spinal surgeon, my severe scoliosis was arrested and I was straightened out, literally, at age seventy-three no less.

Miraculous Recovery

Alexandra Lackey ~

During my third year of medical school, I completed a clinical rotation in surgery. I was certain that it would be horrible. I envisioned myself in the OR, getting lightheaded, passing out onto the sterile field and being yelled at by my attending physician. I worried that the medical knowledge I’d worked so hard to learn would be neglected in favor of memorizing the steps of surgical procedures. My parents, who are both physicians, warned that I’d just be holding retractors for hours.

I want to interact with my patients, I fretted, not just hover over them while they’re anesthetized.

Although I tried to keep an open mind, I knew that I was destined for a miserable time.

game plan

Game Plan

 Debbie Hall

About the artist:

Debbie Hall is a psychologist, writer and photographer. Her first poetry collection, What Light I Have, has been published by Main Street Rag. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of literary journals. Her essays have appeared on NPR (“This I Believe” series) and in The San Diego Union Tribune and other publications.

About the artwork:

“My partner was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2017. This photo summarizes not the entire treatment plan (which included surgery and radiation as well as chemotherapy), but the beginning steps, as well as additional diagnostic studies ordered at the outset of this journey. The information was presented simply, yet the life changes that lay ahead were overwhelming in magnitude.”

Visuals editor:

Sara Kohrt

The Price of Admission

I had been accepted to an accelerated graduate program in Health Communication and was considering deferring for a year. New responsibilities at work and figuring out what I wanted to do next with my life took priority. 

But then, I found out that my friend, Liz, was sick.

Morning Fibro

I knew I had to get up early the next morning, but I still snuck into his room where we laughed and talked, like we always do, late into the night. I was sorry to be leaving home, but it was time to go back to school.

I love my brother. He encourages and supports me and is everything that a big brother should be. But he is also something that no one should be: sick with no health insurance.

What About Me?

Amy Cowan ~

It’s Monday morning, and I’m the attending physician starting a week of inpatient service in the hospital. On my patient list is a man named Earl, age ninety-one. He’s outlived his siblings, his first and second wives and all of his peers. After seven decades of smoking, his lungs are failing; he carries a diagnosis that reads “severe emphysema.”

The sign-out note from Earl’s previous doctor reads, “Daughter and son-in-law met multiple times with the team last week.” As his medical decision-makers, they’ve been waffling about what to do for him. Last week they said, “Do everything,” then “Take a comfort approach,” only to wind up back with “Let’s get him strong enough for rehab.”

I’ve been putting off rounding on Earl: I’m afraid that these two will hijack rounds by changing their minds again.

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