Sleeping Now

“I can’t sleep,” I repeatedly told my PCP. I told him I would lie in bed at night, my mind racing from one topic to another: work, errands, kids, pets, yardwork. I would turn the light back on and play solitaire until my eyes were blurry, then give sleeping another try. Getting up at 4:00 a.m. was usual for me, which meant getting to sleep between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. was essential.

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When we met you, we didn’t believe your pain. We didn’t believe you when you told us your pain was nine out of ten, because wouldn’t you be screaming if it were? Because you sometimes slept. Because you were addicted.

At home, you treated your pain with heroin, so I carefully gave you opiates, limiting the amount and the frequency. You came for an infection and you brought your pain—you brought it everywhere you went.

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It’s still dark outside as I, a rising second-year medical student, make my way through the doors of the hospital. After changing into my scrubs, I head over to the pre-operative area in search of my preceptor. Along with the third-year resident, I find my preceptor at the patient’s bedside. My preceptor points to the ultrasound, which shows the patient’s narrowed, abnormal artery. They already completed the pre-operative debrief and have begun physically preparing the patient for surgery. As the central line is placed, the patient moans.

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A Spark from Abroad

As a child, I had the fortunate opportunity to visit India, the birthplace of my parents, where we stayed with my grandfather in rural Punjab. He was sick at the time, suffering from multiple chronic illnesses, including a broken hip. He needed hip replacement surgery. Due to the area’s limited healthcare resources, the wait time was long, and my family had to watch him suffer.
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Morning Fibro

I knew I had to get up early the next morning, but I still snuck into his room where we laughed and talked, like we always do, late into the night. I was sorry to be leaving home, but it was time to go back to school.

I love my brother. He encourages and supports me and is everything that a big brother should be. But he is also something that no one should be: sick with no health insurance.

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Excuse Me?

The hospital café was a long walk from our classroom, so, as a group, some of us from the summer program walked there together for lunch. I was out front, with earbuds in, not paying attention, when I felt a slight tap on my shoulder. I turned to see an elderly woman. She was bent over and looked weary and lonely. I took out my earbuds and said, “Excuse me?”

She said, “I’m a veteran.” She showed me her badge. “Can you take me to get some food? I don’t have any money.” She said that after she ate, she

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A Voice for Pain

When they come into the clinic, I sometimes catch a glimpse of them carefully adjusting their countenances, whether to conceal pain or to fashion an expression of it, I can’t yet tell. I’m still a medical student; I’m still learning. 
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My First Patient

We stood there for a moment of silence and trepidation. I was grateful that I wasn’t the one who had to make the first cut. To do that would mean presiding over this person’s transition from former human to current specimen. I am still unsure whether that sensitivity refers to myself or to the cadaver. Do we perform these dissections to study someone else, or are we studying ourselves?
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Love Handles

I rocked back on the plush bedspread, leaning into the weekend. I was alive. I filled my chest with her lavender air as if I had just stepped outside.

And then suddenly she spoke, from the place where she faced the bathroom mirror. Her voice drifted across the hall: “My love handles are gone.”

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Four Floppy Ears

He was my first encounter with a comatose patient. How does one communicate with an unconscious body? With tubes and wires and braces. He was fragile. He’d suffered a diffuse nerve injury and faced an unknown prognosis, yet his family was pleading for a hint of recovery as we were preparing to transfer him to a rehabilitation facility thater that day. He lay motionless on the stretcher while I awaited the arrival of transport staff to wheel him away.

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Discovering Dependence

I am an independent woman, used to taking care of myself and others. But that self-image was dashed five years ago, when I fell and shattered my elbow.

I tried to gather my dropped purse and Chinese takeout but didn’t realize I couldn’t even gather my body until a stranger knelt beside me and said, “Let me stabilize your arm.The ambulance is on the way.”

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Unconquer This Territory

When I was six, good Uncle Hyman’s shiny nose enticed me for reasons I now find obscure and incomprehensible. I scrubbed and scrubbed at my own nose to make it as polished as his. It stung a little. But I was pleased.

Until my nose scabbed over in one big sheet the next day. “What have you done?” my mom demanded, and laughed until she couldn’t breathe when I told her.

“All I wanted was a shiny nose,” I cried. She had to sit down because her giggles made her wheeze.

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