Month: March 2022

April More Voices: Accidents

Dear Pulse readers,

When I was a college sophomore, my mother called me in tears to tell me that one of my Canadian cousins had died in a car accident. A bright, vivacious university student, Orianne had been dozing in the back seat of a Volkswagen beetle driven by a friend, who’d apparently lost control of the car. It swerved off the road and rolled over, killing her.

No one else in the car was injured.

Colored Darkness

“You know how empowering it was for me to walk out into the ocean without my shirt on?” asked my twenty-four-year-old cousin Neil after we’d returned from a day of swimming and sunning at the beach.

For me, it had been a rare and welcome break from my coursework in medical school, where I had just started my fourth year.

It was the first time I had worn a bikini in public after years of veiling myself in shirts and wetsuits.

An Unmeasurable Vital Sign

“How do you do it?” my dear friend asks me. A marriage and family therapist, she finds it hard to hear about the physical ailments of my senior patients—all of them over sixty-five, all homebound due to mobility impairment from a serious illness or injury. “I could never do it,” she says. “With my patients, I help them create new beginnings. For yours, there are none.”

Through Their Last Days

John was sitting up in bed as I approached his room. “Come on in, Sister. Father has just left.”

Somewhat hesitant, I entered the room aware that his wife and daughter were in tears. I asked John if there was anything I could do for him. “Sing for me” he replied, and I began singing the words to YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE. John immediately bellowed out the song, and his wife and daughter joined in. Through their tears they gave me the courage to enjoy a heartwarming visit with John.

Father and Son

When I met Mr. Rosenbaum, age ninety, I’d been a physical therapist at the hospital for all of three months.

The nurse had propped up his scabbed foot on several pillows. Cushioned on them like a precious jewel, it extended over the bed’s end.

I introduced myself and asked if he’d like help adjusting his yarmulke, which was entangled in the nasal breathing tube slung around his left ear. He smiled at me, one eye wider than the other. I grinned back, reminded of my own grandpa.

“Are you married?” he asked.

Watermelon Pickles and Records for the Blind

The ticking of a hand-wound clock and the voice of my father’s aunt were what I first noticed as I tried to sit quietly on a Victorian chair with curved wooden legs and a not-very-soft needlepointed seat. I wasn’t able to sit still for long. “Go into the kitchen and get a watermelon pickle,” my great-aunt said merrily. Legally blind due to glaucoma, she could see only shadows and silhouettes. I was an avid reader as a child, so blindness terrified me. Although she applied drops to her cloudy eyes, there were limited treatments and no cure in 1965.

Taking Courage to Heart and to the Heart of Medicine

Few individuals are called upon to be heroes like Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy who, in choosing to stay and fight a massive, invading army, faces a real possibility of imprisonment and death. This is true courage.

Within the medical profession, there are also wars to be fought that require true courage. One thinks of the late Dr. Paul Farmer, who worked tirelessly throughout his career to bring high-quality health care to Haiti, Rwanda, and other resource-poor nations around the world.

Searching for Activism

My senior year in college, I took a course called Women and Radicalism. It was an exciting class. We studied radical movements on the left and right, with a focus on women’s participation. The course featured a weekend retreat with women activists. For two days, women took the stage to describe their causes and advocacy roles. I attended many sessions, in awe of these phenomenal women who were making a difference in the world. I noted that most of them had been thrust into their cause by a personal adverse event, such as gun violence or an environmental catastrophe.

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