My 72-year-old dad is in neurologic intensive care in a strange hospital in a strange city far from his home and from mine. In the midst of my fully-booked morning of seeing patients, I am trying to reach my diminutive stepmother on the cell phone that she does not know how to program to hear her layperson’s interpretation of what the strange doctors are telling her.
Unable to get through to my step-mother, I step into the next exam room to see Mr. P, a 72-year-old man with stable coronary disease and Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). He has difficulty hearing

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Sorry to Wake You Up

My twins were born just twelve hours after I came home from work, but six weeks earlier than expected, so I extended my maternity leave for as long as possible. My partners were accommodating and generous while I was away, but they were plenty glad to have me in the call rotation when I came back. So, after my four months’ leave, I was on the schedule within a week or two of returning to work.
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Monday at 4 p.m.

On a cold December day, I heard a knock on our clinic door. “Hello? Can someone help me?”

Her name was Sara. She wore an oversized blue jacket, black rain boots and a scarf over her head. With my bright blue Health Leads patient advocate polo shirt, I greeted Sara as she sat down in the chair next to me.

“I need some childcare vouchers. They’ve stopped giving me money and I can’t seem to make ends meet any more,” she told me quietly.

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The rescue squad was heading, fast, for the hospital with a patient on board. Needing help, they picked me up at my office en route.
It was a pleasant, warming spring day in the North Country. There was still plenty of snow in the mountains, but hikers were up there already. Some, from what we called “the flatlands,” wore sneakers. She shouldn’t have. She slipped. She fell.
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The Birthday Call

“I need you to come back to the hospital,” I would say over the phone. I would hear a rush of inhaled air, signaling stunned shock. “Is there someone who can drive you?” I would provide only enough details to communicate urgency and allude to the dire nature of the patient’s condition.
After forty years of critical care nursing, I have lost count of how many calls like that I’ve made, of how I perfected the words, of how I danced around the truth, of how I baited and buffered to make sure the person on the other

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Fall Call

The phone call came just as Dad and I had finished lunch and were about to enjoy some window-shopping at the mall. It was the nursing home informing us that Ma had again fallen out of bed and was again being taken by ambulance to a nearby emergency room.

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We Lost One

“We lost one.” That phrase could mean anything, really. It could refer to a mid-season baseball game. “We lost that one. We’ll win the next.” It could refer to a personal possession. “I used to have two angola sweaters, but I lost one.” Or to a child’s hopes for money from the Tooth Fairy. “I had two loose teeth, but I only lost one!”

But when you say it about a baby, a twin, it’s enough to silence any sympathizer. 

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His Jet Black Hair

The call came twenty years ago, but it stands out in my mind like it was yesterday. I was a student nurse on a psychiatric rotation, and my clinical instructor called to inform me that the patient that I had been caring for had died. The death occured after discharge from the hospital. And the cause of death was suicide.

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First Night on Duty as a Medical Resident

It is 1959; it’s my first night on duty as a medical resident at a VA hospital. I am called to the ER.

I enter the ER where the nurse, appearing frightened and perplexed, is talking on the phone. She places her tremulous hand over the receiver and says to me, “It’s a Korean war veteran. He thinks he’s in action and is speaking to his command installation and is screaming for more back-up, more shelling. We are trying to trace the call.”

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I Hate To Tell You This…

My phone rang. It was late on a Tuesday afternoon, and I was at work. It was Dr. H. “I hate to tell you this over the phone, but time is of the essence,” started my new gynecologist, in the call that changed my life. “The biopsy shows you have a rare and very aggressive form of uterine cancer. I’ve already obtained an appointment for you this week with Dr. K, a gyn-oncologist, and he is prepared to operate the following week.
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Racing Against Death

My parents and I were rushing to D.C. to be by my grandmother’s side–I from Boston by plane, they from Pittsburgh by automobile. It was a cloudy morning.

Upon reaching Reagan National Airport, I switched my mobile out of airplane mode and saw a text from my sister: call mum right now. Despite being the older sibling, I always followed my sister’s instructions and obediently called our mum.

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Wait and Hope

Today I woke up much like the days before, and this ability to rouse myself from the safety of my bed, I count as my first of small triumphs. I have been waking up like this since I can remember, in a fog of depression, with my first thought always “I’m not sure I can do this again.”

I have never not felt the pain that is depression; I have just had moments of success in hiding it. I fight the callous thoughts all day, every day. Some days I win, some days I fail spectacularly.
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