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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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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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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Relay Race

I sit across from my sixty-year-old patient, whom I know to be a sprightly woman, although she is now busy scanning the floor with her eyes.
I place my hand over her interlaced fingers. “What’s the matter?” I ask. 

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Death Watch

Even dying, Dad fills the hospital bed. He’s a big man. His slumped body bears two bed sores, one on each leg. A matching set.
Once, he ruled me. A slap of one hand hand here. A smack of his other hand there. “I’ll give you something to cry about.”
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Careful Fingers

It was a Friday night in February. I was finishing up a poster for a conference on cancer genomics I had to attend the following Monday. As I worked, I thought about the possibility of making mistakes on the data analysis.

Gingerly, I went back to the raw data and repeated the process. Highlight this portion of the data. Make sure the data is valid. Copy and paste it into the statistical software. Click this button before pressing “Enter.” My eyes darted across the screen, watching every move my fingers made.

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Bare Hands and an Open Heart

I am constantly obsessing over fingers and toes in the ICU. They can tell us so much about whether our high-tech machines and drugs are helping to keep our patients’ bodies perfused with oxygenated blood. Some patients’ fingers and toes are warm and pink. Some are cold and black, even falling off. A lot are dirty…really dirty. Like with actual dirt clogged under overgrown nails. I won’t lie and pretend that these nails don’t gross me out a little bit. Or deny that I typically wear gloves when I am touching these patients’ hands or feet.

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Rough Start

Approaching the hospital bassinet, I glimpse his hair first–long, carrot-colored fuzz sticking out in all directions from his pink, bowling-ball scalp. A chubby, scrunched face comes into view next, cherry-red lips forming a Cheerio and one eyelid wavering just enough to reveal a soft blue puddle beneath it.

Gingerly, I slide my hands under his sausage-like arms, my fingers cradling the doughy curves of his tiny neck, caressing the orange-yellow cornsilk on his occiput. Slowly, I lift him from the sterile white mattress he’s called home for the month since his exit from the womb, since his insurmountable hurdles

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Meditating with My Stepdaughter

It was a Friday afternoon in May, a week before my stepdaughter died. I was holding a solo vigil on the couch next to her bed, while she slept peacefully.

Her hair had started growing back, soft and thick and gray. I loved to rub my hand across her head.

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The Making of Me

I was the new doc in a small country town. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to do best for my new patients.


She was the town matriarch. She had multiple chronic illnesses. She had the power to make me or break me.


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A 3:00 a.m. Phone Call

When the phone rang at 3:00 a.m., as I reached out my hand to answer it I knew the call was bringing bad news. On the other end of the line, I heard my dad’s croaky, Parkinsonian voice stammer,”Rozzie, I’m so cold. Come here and help me; I can’t reach the blanket to cover myself.” It seemed like forever before he was able to squeeze out the additional information that he’d called the front desk at the assisted-care facility where he lived, but Jose, the night attendant, had said he was alone and couldn’t leave the desk, even for a

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White Coat Ceremony

What do you think medicine’s most powerful diagnostic tool is? A CAT scan, perhaps? An MRI?

No. Look at your hands. These will be the most important tools of your chosen profession.

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