December 2022

Love Is the Key

Collecting dust on the rustic wooden shelves above a sturdy workbench in my basement are models of history-making ships, spaceships and military fighter planes. There’s an enormous replica of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, complete with iconic NASA logo and a massive orange fuel tank nestled next to its launch tower. Not far off is a black-and-brown plastic replica of the forty-four-gun frigate USS Constitution, its hull held together by two gigantic bolts.

Their maker has been gone for four years, but I can’t throw them away. They hold the precious memory of my husband Don, who spent hours gluing, painting and sometimes not so patiently putting pieces together.

Beyond Diagnoses: Seeing and Sensing with Soul

Lori is here today with a chief complaint of dizziness and headache. At least that’s what my medical assistant tells me. But after practicing family medicine for almost twenty years, I’ve learned that there’s usually more to the story.

I recognize the expectation to match the story and physical exam to a reasonable diagnosis, especially one that the patient can trust. All in 20 minutes. No pressure at all!

Letter to Myself as a Third-Year Medical Student

At most medical schools, the first two years are spent in lectures, labs and classroom learning. The third year is when students begin rotating on various clinical teams in the hospital and clinics, finally seeing patients as part of a large educational medical team. As I moved through pediatrics, ob/gyn, surgery and other core rotations during my third year, I took notes at the times when I felt out of place or discouraged. These memories became the basis of this letter to myself–a letter I wish that I could have read that year. 



Beyond Connection

Very early on a Sunday morning, my friend Marla called asking for help. She was in excruciating pain—bone metastases, as it later became clear, from her breast cancer. She’d been instructed to head to the emergency room and needed a ride.

A Tale of One City

A physician-mother has two children, both of whom sought medical care at a storied medical institution in the environs of Boston, Massachusetts, in December of 2022, as the city was in the grip of the “tripledemic” of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus, and influenza. Following is a summary of each case.

Stories

For the fifteen years that I have been at my current job, I have held onto my patients’ stories. Tucked into special pockets in my heart, they would be brought out whenever their “owner” came in for an appointment, where the story would take on a new form, then be stored away again. There were stories of shame and heartbreak, stories of joy and triumph. People confessed their deepest fears, shared events never revealed, and confided fledgling hopes and dreams. These stories are signs of patient-physician trust and of sacred human-to-human connections.

Daring to Dream

For the past three years, I worked as a rural primary-care doctor. Two months ago, I resigned to pursue further training in hospice and palliative care. My patients were the inspiration that illuminated every step of my way towards this new path.

Marly came to me for a workup of her persistently elevated liver enzymes. Together, we navigated her new diagnosis—liver cancer—and a series of failed treatments. Eventually, Marly’s thoughts turned to facing her mortality.

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