A Lifeline of Yarn

 
During my internship in general surgery, I had few opportunities to go into the operating room, yet I was itching to put my hands to work. I heard around the hospital that a transplant surgeon I admired was a talented knitter. So I signed up for a basic knitting class at Michaels craft store, learned my knits and purls, and began constructing lopsided scarves using inexpensive, scratchy acrylic Red Heart yarn. I was quickly addicted to my new hobby.
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Suzanne

 
I still remember the night I decided to become a nurse. My eight-year-old daughter had been admitted to the hospital following an emergency appendectomy, and I stayed overnight on the pediatric unit with her. A nurse named Suzanne came on at 11:00. She had short blond hair, a pink jacket and an air of matter-of-fact confidence. I can’t picture her face any more, but I can still see her hands–checking my daughter’s dressing, using a pillow to prop her on her side, smoothing the blanket over her shoulders.
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Lipstick

 
My mother’s scent, Replique, always entered my bedroom an instant before she did. The message my nose carried to my brain, then on to my heart, was “She’s going out tonight.” 
 
She would first sit on the edge of my mattress. The comfort of her nearness would always be overshadowed by the sadness that I knew would overtake me once she left me alone. But we both pretended it didn’t matter. She’d say all the requisite things like “Sleep tight” and “See you in the morning” and “I love you.” And then she would kiss my

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Stubborn Thumbs

 
My maternal grandmother was a psychic medium. She read cards professionally and taught me card-reading when I was child. As a teen, wanting an intuitive skill no one else in the family possessed, I went to the library, checked out books on palm reading and studied them.
 
Throughout my working life, I kept this hobby to myself. Yet I used it both consciously and subconsciously; I believe nurses possess a clairvoyance born of compassion and the will to heal. We earn this through study and years of practice. Yet it is also a gift of heart and mind.
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The Abdominal Exam

 
“Your fingers are your eyes to see beneath the skin,” my stepfather says to me. “When you examine your patients, close your eyes and imagine what is beneath the surface.”

He and I–an experienced physician and a nascent medical student, respectively–are sitting on our living-room couch next to a twenty-year-old neighbor who’s asked for advice, after explaining that he’s had a sore throat, fever, and fatigue for the past two weeks.

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Letter to My Patient

 
Dear Ms. S,

I’m honored to have known you, I’m glad I had a chance to hold your hand before your surgery, and I will forever remember you as my first patient who passed away.

Within the first few seconds of meeting you, I knew you were a sweet person and had a wonderful, giving soul. I hope you are at peace where you are now. I hope you are no longer suffering.

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Clapping Hands

 
“May I present to you the graduating class of meds…”
 
The uproarious burst of applause that always follows this statement is a wonderful sound–one that I’ve heard echoing through nine years now of medical graduation ceremonies. It’s the sound of the clapping hands of proud parents, exultant students, happy faculty and supportive staff who are all so glad to see this moment come.
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Blessing Hands

 
During Hospital Week each year, the staff of our Chaplaincy Department go all over the hospital to bless the hands of caregivers. It is a simple ritual to validate the sacred work of caring for others. With anyone who feels comfortable participating, we chaplains take a little lotion, place it on the staff member’s hands, and, while clasping their hands, say, [Name], I bless these hands of yours, which labor in the care and healing of others in the name of the one who brings healing to us all. Amen.” 
 
Here are some of the things I’ve heard in the

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Gloves on Hands

 
When my internal medicine residents put on gloves to examine a patient’s normal abdominal skin, I see red. Don’t they know that the easiest way to make our patients feel dirty and repellent, leprous and untouchable, is to deny them the skin of our hands?
 
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The Apparition

 

The drug wore off, and in a minute’s time I travelled from epidural bliss to full-on, body-wrenching pain. An ominous feeling welled up inside me, and then it came bursting out in a primal scream.

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Butterfly Wings

 
Like the wings of a butterfly, Ma’s hands were always in motion. Making beds with perfect hospital corners. Gliding the iron across Dad’s shirts. Breading veal chops and turning dough into chocolate chip cookies. Washing dishes and clothes. Vacuuming and dusting. Ringing up sales at the children’s store where she worked.
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