Night Blindness

Five o’clock a.m. is an almost holy time for overnight ER staff. An eerie calm blankets the air, and the promise of sunrise fuels us to finish the last two hours of another marathon shift. Medicated patients have drifted into a deep slumber, and the parade of stretchers from the ambulance bay has finally come to a halt. 

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Cotton Wool Hair

“How long have you been doing this?” he asked, eyes gleaming with admiration. I was unsure whether he was asking long I had been conducting patient interviews or how long I had been a medical student. I decided on the latter. “Two years,” I replied with a confident smile accross my chin. “Well, you’re very good!.” “Thank you,” I replied, almost a whisper.

It was a compliment I was definitely not expecting on my first day there.

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First Combat, Then Conversation

 
2010: I’m a 25-year-old premedical student, an herbalist and a volunteer at a free clinic. I’m experiencing unaccountable fatigue, achiness, brain fog and dizziness. After a series of medical evaluations, I receive a dreaded diagnosis–Lyme disease, the same infection that crippled my mother, that I now feel twisting my body and contorting my mind. I am infected with terror.
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The First Time

 
Walking with my mother through a recent time of ill health was unlike the countless times I had supported individuals and families through their own times of grief and loss. As a spiritual health practitioner (aka hospital chaplain) at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, on an island near Vancouver, I found the setting and the situation very familiar. But the emotions were anything but.
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Learning the Meaning of Care

 

I was nervous. I had never been this close to someone who was about to die. I introduced myself, but the patient was non-responsive. I told her that I was going to sit with her and that I would stay for a few hours. As I sat down, I noticed her breathing–it was irregular, and each breath sounded like she was slowly and painfully drowning. Almost trying to distract myself from her breathing, I studied her face. The structure of her face–her jaw- and cheekbones–was well defined. My eyes wandered from her head to her

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Hope Lost

In 2004, Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic Convention. He entitled it “The Audacity of Hope.” At the time, as a wide-eyed, innocent medical student who had just finished her third-year clerkships, I wondered if the medical profession had not only lost this audacity but, furthermore, if we discouraged our patients from “the audacity of hope.”

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Anatomy Lesson

 
“Okay, it is time to move on,” my professor claps his hands together and yells above the chatter. We all look up from our Netter’s anatomy books and our cadavers. The smell of formaldehyde burns my nose as the fluorescent lights flicker above.

“We have explored the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. It is now time to move onto the extremities, starting with the arms. I want you to unwrap the arms and study the anatomy of the arms and the hands. I’ll come by each group to go over exactly what I want you to do. Okay, everyone, let’s get

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The Center of Everything

The call came at midnight. “He died,” the voice on the other end said. No emotion.

“How are you, Alice?” I asked.

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Medical School

We came to the one place I knew you dreaded.
 
 As joyful as you sounded when you called me at work after you plucked the envelope – a big envelope this time – from our mailbox, I knew our happiness lay in the expectation that other oversized bundles would follow. For it to truly be our happiness, our dream, we would need to rejoice at this triumph, then file it away and ultimately go elsewhere.
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Untitled (A Medical Student’s First Patient)

I was terrified the first day of lab. Terrified of the slice of a scalpel through human skin. And, most of all, terrified of how I would react to the shock of making that first cut. 

I did make that first cut and many more afterward. I didn’t pass out, and eventually my heart stopped pounding when I picked up the scalpel. As time went on, we learned an impossible amount about the way humans are made, the way the pieces fit together. That was your gift to us, and I want to thank you.

Though I must admit,

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Searching for My Super Power

 
My name is Tamara, and I have a blood cancer, Polycythemia Vera, which means in my bone marrow, the essence of my being, I have a mutation. Like the X-Men, only I have yet to discover my super power.
You see it is freaking rush hour up in here. Too many red blood cells and platelets and not enough neurotransmitters or oxygen, and what this means is I feel like the life and the person I want to be have been hijacked.
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Hope in a Hopeless Place

 
In 2008 my father was committed to a long-term care facility, and our family visited him daily. We testified to the nursing home staff of the funny, smart, kind and generous man he once was.
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