March 2022

ECT Saved My Life

It was July, and the weather outside my window was sunny—but inside, it was a different story.

At the beginning of the summer I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I myself thought that I suffered from major depressive disorder.

I felt as though I were sinking into a black hole. My medications didn’t seem to be working, and my psychiatrist was out of the country for the summer.

The Grim Loneliness of Being Left Behind

Rosie is in the hospital, alone. She is alone because she has survived the deaths of a child, two husbands, and five siblings. “They left me behind,” she laments. “All I have are flimsy memories and yellowed obituaries.” She plucks several photos from a bedside table and stares at them, as if in pilgrimage.

One More

He sits on a stool in his office, scrolling quickly through hundreds of images, slowing briefly to scrutinize one. Those of us walking by and looking over his shoulder are awed: His practiced eye knows exactly what to look for after more than 30 years doing this.

No watch discloses how many hours he’s been reading mammography images—his unconscious goal being to avoid missing even one anomaly before he moves on to the next image. His coffee cup sits empty by his elbow, next to his long-forgotten breakfast sandwich.

When Worlds Collide

Malcolm sat in the ICU bed, propped up on pillows to ease his breathing. At seventy-five, he had suffered respiratory complications after open-heart surgery. He’d been on a ventilator for several weeks before gradually being weaned from it.

Malcolm’s blue golf cap hid a bald pate surrounded by a fringe of silver hair. He always seemed to be smiling, comfortable with himself and what life had thrown his way. His smile had grown even warmer over the past weeks as we’d gradually formed a bond of intimacy.

It’s Okay to Fall or Fail

Sara looked me up and down when I walked into the exam room. Her diabetes and hypertension were uncontrolled, and her PCP had asked me to counsel her.

I introduced myself as an RN and asked Sara to tell me about herself. She launched into her medical history, but I stopped her. “Tell me about Sara,” I said, “and what she likes.”

She looked startled. “Well, I’m a proud grandmother of a four-year-old,” she said. “Her name is Amy.”

The First Scar

In the early 1980s, I considered everyone at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia to be my friend. As a volunteer and a vestry member at the nearby Episcopal church, I would often arrive at the ER with a homeless person who had come to the church for help after being badly injured. I was so impressed with how the doctors and nurses treated these patients that I developed a real affinity for the hospital.

Room 103

The tension in the triage section of my hospital’s emergency department is palpable as I walk toward Room 103. There are more nurses at the station than usual, and their eyes follow me as I push my ultrasound cart towards my destination.

Symphony of Silence

I remember the curtains like a mantle enfolding us, protecting us from the darkness of the night. Only a dim light glowed in the room. The thrum of the oxygen machine—dedoov … dedoov … dedoov—made it hard to sit comfortably in my recliner. 

I watched his face, his hands, his upper body slowly going up and down in their own rhythm. I recalled how privileged I’d felt when his relatives asked me to watch over him in his last stage of life. 

Finding Strength in Caring

Harper Lee taught me so much in To Kill a Mockingbird, including the definition of real courage: “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” Through caregiving, I found that I am a woman of such courage.

March More Voices: Courage

Dear Pulse readers,
Recent days in Ukraine have reminded us of what courage looks like. I’m sure that I’m not the only person wondering whether they could be as brave as President Zelensky:
“I don’t need a ride. I need more ammunition.”
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