August 2020

This Too Shall Pass

I don’t know when I’m going to see my daughter again. When she left with her family this morning after a two-month stay, she hugged me tight, sobbing softly into my shoulder. Trying to keep my own tears in check, I reassured her that I’ll visit soon. “We’ll find a way,” I whispered. Though neither of us knew exactly what that might look like in a few weeks’ time, we held on to hope as we let go of each other.

We Docs Don’t Know Everything. Really!!

Back in 1956, after completing my first year in a rotating internship, I had a few months off before reporting for duty in the US Army. I spent six weeks of that time covering a busy, primary care practice.

As the doc headed for the door, he stopped long enough to advise me on two points. First, he said, “One, all you need for record-keeping is a few 6 x 8 cards. Onto those cards you can write the patient’s whole story. Two, NEVER let the patient know that you don’t know something.”

Immigrant MD

I’ve spent the last eight years as a foreigner in the U.S. My last two years of medical school, I did my rotations in the Washington, DC, area, but had to leave the country every six months to renew my visa. Each trip, I would think, Will they let me back in this time? My stomach would migrate to my throat every time immigration officers directed me to secondary clearance. I felt like a criminal. They scrutinized the letter from my school validating my credentials, looking for a reason to kill my dreams.

I thought things would be different once I was a resident. But no one had told me that if I wanted to travel “freely” I would have to leave the country to renew my visa stamp every year. Who has the time or money for that on a resident’s salary? I traveled back home just once during my three years of residency. Imagine not seeing your family for two years, praying they stay well until you can hug them again. But when an officer yet again inspected my documents with doubt and scrutiny, he could not seem to look past “Immigrant” to see my “MD.” The uncertainty surrounding being …

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Medical Home

A model or philosophy of primary care that is patient-centered, comprehensive, team-based, coordinated, accessible and focused on quality and safety.   –Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative

It’s a philosophy
not a place.
I get it.
Certainly we never used that term
to describe what we offered
there in the broken heart of the city

Balancing Act

Tim sat across from me in the small exam room. He was a friend, a colleague, and my doctor. He’d seen me for many years. “We’re walking a tightrope,” he said. Tim’s words rang true. We were balancing my many, complex medical problems.

For me, each day had bocame a carefully choreographed dance. Medications, IV antibiotics, a feeding tube, breathing treatments. A series of precisely coordinated steps, all to forestall my death. I learned to duck under the terror, to tamp down my fear.


I’m not sure why I scrawl quotation marks around the word “dead” when it should be bolded or underlined.

I jot my notes out of habit, as if this were any other call from a referring physician. I make my usual box in front of her name to check off when she arrives at the hospital and has been assigned to a team.
But, of course, she won’t arrive and be assigned to a team because she is dead.

A Village of Doctors

During a regular physical two years ago, my internist offhandedly commented that he’d heard lung sarcoidosis can recur. I smiled to myself as I thought how strange he should mention that, exactly fifty years since my own diagnosis with the disease. I remembered its onset as if it were yesterday—bronchitis, Bell’s palsy, the painful bumps of erythema nodosum, general respiratory symptoms, and a positive skin test.

Avoiding a 3 a.m. Awakening

My subconscious is wiser than I am, and I’ve learned to pay attention to what awakens me at 3 a.m. Maybe others have had that experience, too ― no patient, no friend, no one ― has ever complained when I call (after sunrise) and start with, “I woke up this morning thinking about you.”

Part of why the subconscious is wise, I think, is because it gets to work in a brain that has slowed down from the too-busyness of the day. In the stillness of the night, it asks, “What about this?”

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