Month: September 2019

Protective Mechanism

Local EMS responded to the 911 call: “30-year old male who can’t walk.” Upon seeing his dire condition, they drove lights and sirens to the ER. I saw the paramedics wheeling their patient into Room 1 and thought the handsome, young man looked too healthy for the critical area. Was he a VIP patient expecting special treatment? I didn’t know whether to be alarmed or annoyed.  
Then I lifted the sheet and couldn’t palpate a post-tibial pulse. I ran to get the ER doctor.

The Last Kleenex

Charlie, a fifty-year-old gay man and my patient for many years, comes for an office visit. His complaints are a cough and listlessness.

He is an outgoing, highly respected architect who teaches at a prominent university. He’s left few precious stones unturned in his life and has been remarkably successful. He has a wonderful, loving marriage.

To offer further insight into Charlie’s character and personality, some time ago he received treatment for a malignancy. Before embarking on treatment, he scoured every conceivable therapy and developed a thorough knowledge of the pros and cons of each one. Every step of the way, he shared the details of the investigation with me. I was greatly impressed by his ability to control his life so admirably and effectively.

My contribution to his detailed search for the right approach was to suggest that he accept one of the many treatment options, then do his best to deal with the uncertainty surrounding medical treatment.

My Boy Goes Out for Sports

This boy of mine tried
to be a sportsman.
Jane and I watched his team,
heedless ducklings clutching
plastic bats behind the T-ball,
the ball up high, right there
where they couldn’t miss it,
but they did. When shouts from
other parents roused us from our chat,
we tossed encouragement
into the ballfield’s air, no matter
whose kid got a hit.

Things got serious the next summer,
one level up onto the honest-to-God
Little League ladder, raucous parents
lobbing their frustration
at any boy not quite up to speed,
their snarls slapping the sunstruck air.
Our sons begged to quit, and we let them.

Amniotic twigs

Amniotic Twigs

“One morning while walking my dog, I noted a collectionn of small twigs with just a hint of frost on them. The pattern made by the twigs reminded me of the slides I examine when looking for ferning, a pattern made by amniotic fluid which confirms that a woman has ruptured her membranes during labor.”

Authenticity Affirmed

I was a young, eager chaplain at a community hospital, completing rabbinical school. So eager, in fact, that I misread a referral regarding a patient who actually requested no chaplain visits. When I went to visit her, there was another woman with her. The patient then advised me that she didn’t want any chaplain visits. 

But she was kind and compassionate, and must have seen that I was a novice. She invited me to sit with her. As I came closer, she said to me: “Rabbi, I can’t believe that I have only three weeks to live.”

Setting an Example

Morning rounds, on an August Tuesday. I’ve got two senior residents with me, along with two interns and a third-year student. We’re working our way through a list of patients scattered across several floors of the hospital. Most of them we had met just the day before. And a few, of course, were added overnight.

Beepers and cell phones shrill together, letting us know that one of our patients needs attention. We run up the stairs and find the code team already there. The student watches the interns performing chest compressions, wanting to participate yet glad not to be called up.


Throughout my adult life, I have tried to develop a strong voice—as a single mother, educator, writer and woman. This ability to speak for myself has made me feel impenetrable. Through self-expression, I have managed to survive the challenges of my life.

Then, in mid-July, I lost my voice—literally. I woke up with a severe case of laryngitis and now, six weeks later, still grapple with not being able to talk above a raspy whisper. My inability to communicate has made me feel vulnerable; I am dependent upon others to either speak for me or to have the patience to try to decipher my feeble attempts to speak.

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