January 2023

A New Path

Our ambulance had been summoned to help a woman tripping on mushrooms—activated by a midnight 911 call about a possible assault and death. The police arrived at the location ahead of us to ensure safety. We walked inside to find a woman sobbing and holding a blood-soaked towel against her mangled hand. She had huge, dilated pupils from mushrooms she’d ingested with her boyfriend. Her story unraveled as we listened in horror.

An Unlikely Pairing

It is no secret that medicine and art are intimately linked. Consider the utility of music therapy, the innate beauty of medical illustration, and the use of the performing arts to promote healing. As a jazz saxophonist, I have always seen playing and listening to music as a form of relaxation. But what I never realized was how connected playing a musical instrument can be to performing a medical procedure like endoscopy. That may seem an unlikely pairing to some, but they are not so different after all.

What the Body Carries

As an intern in 1984, one of my first patients was a woman I’ll call Emily. Soft-spoken, with a wide smile and light brown hair, she was in her mid forties, from rural North Carolina. She’d had intractable headaches for decades. Despite extensive medical workups, no cause had been found.

The Last Beat

It was midmorning at the hospital where I was a clinical medical-surgical instructor. I was standing at the medications cart with Sally, one of my third-year nursing students. One of the floor nurses approached.

“You have Anna in Room 44, don’t you?” she asked Sally.

Sally nodded.

“You better go in there,” continued the nurse. “She doesn’t look too good.”

Statute of Limitations?

What do you do when you hear about a sex assault that happened years ago, and you currently interact with the perpetrator in your daily life? What if that perpetrator is seemingly a nice person, and you are friends with his female partner and his family?

What if the perpetrator is a patient of yours, and you are also the primary care provider for his family?

What if the perpetrator is a coworker or a supervisor at your workplace, and you spend time together in meetings and engaged in work tasks?

Time Splintered

Time fractured when my first husband died.

There was a before, which no longer existed, and an after, which was unimaginable.

In between, the thinnest–unfathomably thin–line, was the today. The today meant putting one foot in front of the other. One today led to the next today. And finally the year was over.

Permission

I overheard the comments from across the busy clinic. The two students working with their assigned patient were gamely trying to dodge his questions and redirect the conversation. But despite their efforts, he persisted with his intrusive line of commentary: “You girls are pretty. You’re both too pretty to be single. Do you have boyfriends? Are you getting married? Why aren’t you getting married? You need to get husbands before your looks start to go. You should wear your t-shirts a little tighter.”

The barrage continued without pause. The students began to look a little desperate.

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