Storm Shelter

After his wife died, he changed his mind. “No ventilator,” he told me, shaking his head. “No ventilator.”

And so, I thought, now we wait. He had been prepared to wait for his wife to get better when it was she in the hospital alone. No visitors were allowed, so he talked to her by phone for hours each day, even when neither of them would speak, even when she couldn’t speak; he would listen to her breathing, willing it to ease, to settle into the pattern he knew so well from years by her side.

Hospital Near Dublin

I tiptoed into the slippery hallway of the hospital near Dublin where I’d stayed for three weeks as a baby, trying to find some answers as to why I had been there. I still expected to be reprimanded by sisters—what nurses are still called in Ireland—with raw faces and pursed lips.

The walls were awash in institutional sea-foam green. My boyfriend at the time took a picture of my frightened face, the flash bleaching me out to only dark eyes.

Retirement, Hibernation, and Renewal

I retired from a deeply satisfying teaching career just before I turned sixty-five, having always thought I would keep teaching well into my seventies. The decision came in the aftermath of my parents’ illnesses and deaths.

The years between stroke and death for both my mother and father seem, with hindsight, to have been a time of accelerated aging for me, not so much in my legs and arms and feet as in my heart and brain. Not so much the aging that reaps wisdom but the aging that topples into vulnerability. The aging that makes it seem too hard to keep up with a challenging job, to keep giving my students the education they deserve. The aging that makes each ache or pain or worry that I would have shrugged off at a younger age feel like inevitable decline, a one-way street.

Desperate Measures

Desperate Measures

In my very first job as a doctor, working in a London hospital in the 1980s, I always took a ridiculously detailed past medical history for every patient I saw. I started to notice how many elderly women had had septicemia, a life-threatening infection in which enormous amounts of bacteria enter the bloodstream.

The neighborhood surrounding the hospital had once been the worst slum in London, and it didn’t take me long to guess that these infections were probably caused by illegal self-induced abortions during the hungry years of the Depression.

When I asked–slowly, carefully, subtly–I was told some intensely personal and secret stories.

Teeter Totter

I am the only adult child of an alcoholic nurse. Well, he was a nurse, until alcohol took everything. He stopped going to work because they kept sending him home due to alcohol withdrawals. He didn’t renew his nursing license, and that was how he ultimately lost his career. He also lost his house, his car, his relationships, and his health.

Please Give Me a Hug

I knew almost immediately that I was pregnant, and I knew remaining pregnant was not an option. I scheduled a D & C procedure at a local clinic, telling no one in my family. The only person who knew was the man involved, a man forty years my senior. 


“I’ve been having some gender issues lately.”

I was on the phone with my eighteen-year-old granddaughter Amy who had recently moved across country to attend college.

“Want to talk about them?” I asked.

“I want to be a boy.”

“Wow! Where did that come from?” Amy had come out to me as lesbian two years earlier, but I had never heard a word about gender dysphoria.

“I went to an LGBTQ meeting on campus last week, and the speaker said we need to honor who we are. This is who I am.”

On Becoming an Abortion Provider

A young woman comes to my office: she’s pregnant, and she wants to discuss her options. In my medical practice, this scenario repeats itself on a daily basis.
Occasionally the patient is a high school student or in college on a sports scholarship. Oftentimes she’s a single mother with several children, her home already bursting at the seams. Sometimes she’s with a partner she knows would not be a good parent to her children. Or often she is married and financially stable, but engaged in a demanding career, or just simply decides that it’s not the right time.
Some of my patients are ambivalent and want me to help them explore options. Others are already certain that they want an abortion.

Coping with the Present

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago. I did my best to get all the information I needed through research and information, but the thought of having cancer scared me. So I listened to everything my doctor had to say–including that I could have either chemotherapy or surgery, but that with surgery, he would be more likely to get all of the cancer, since it had not spread beyond my prostate. I chose surgery.

See What’s Left

The other day I asked my husband, “How many times a day do you worry about your body or your health?” His reply, “one or two,” shocked me. My answer: At least fifty.
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