What If …

… You were thirty years old, and your mother was also my patient? What if she said you wouldn’t speak to her? What if she said you told her your grandfather sexually abused you? What if she said, “My father was a lot of things, but he was not a sexual predator”? What if she called you “a liar”? What if she didn’t believe you because your sister denied it happened to her? What if you knew that she knew? What if I couldn’t convince her to validate you? What if you cut off all family ties and turned to drugs? What if you killed yourself?

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The jolt of pain shot up my back. Oh shit! I immediately stopped rowing. But then I recommenced my “high intensity” work out, with some modifications, not saying a peep to the instructor. Within a day, I had searing pain down my right thigh, like someone was tearing apart my quad with hot tongs. Every time I tried to stand, I turned ashen white and collapsed down. Me, the marathon runner; me, the active ob/gyn; me, the one who doesn’t know how to say no. Me, brought to my knees by overwhelming pain.

Immediately, I’m texting my

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Death and Forgiveness

“We need to leave. Joan’s father just died.”

My husband, Richard, our newborn baby, Andy, and I were in Binghamton, New York, where Richard was interviewing for a postdoctoral fellowship.

I had been in our host’s guest room nursing Andy when someone called Richard to the phone. As I overheard Richard’s words, my consciousness split in half. One part registered the information with dismay. The other continued cooing to Andy, enchanted that he had just awarded me his first smile.  

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Mrs. B.

At our last office visit, I told Mrs. B., my 88 year-old patient of 18 years, that she was doing very well. Her blood pressure was controlled, her vaccines were up to date, and her mild COPD was well adjusted. She was still an active volunteer for the local VFW, tirelessly preparing food and hellping with events. I encouraged her to keep up the good work and said that I looked forward to seeing her in a few months. She died the following week.
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My dog was lean and strong from swimming, running and walking long distances. Her fur–thick, soft and golden–glistened in the sun. She slept half on and half off her bed near mine. At 6:30 each morning, her wet nose nuzzled me awake. Keeva loved snow and cold weather. She pounced on disappearing snowballs. She chased after balls on the icy beach or plunged after them into the frigid sea. The ocean, a lake or swimming pool all beckoned to her.
Keeva died at age eleven from a hemangioma-sarcoma. My husband had died five years before, and now my dog.

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Blessed Theresa of Monroe

My sister Theresa came into the world smiling. My parents told the story of how when she was born, instead of crying like most babies do, she just smiled. She was a gift from God and devoted her life to God when she became a Catholic nun. She joined the order of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, based in Monroe, Michigan.


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Consumed by Anger

For almost forty-five years, I have been angry. While this anger never leaves me, it becomes more profound on December 11, my son’s birthday. It was on that day in 1973 that the seeds of anger were planted.

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Comfort Care

The hospital-style bed lurks emptily alive in the pale living room. Rust flecks along its silver rails pock my distorted reflection. Cold sheets triangulate like sagging tepees, housing the smell of long-term illness. These are the ghostly remains of hospice care.

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Keep Going

Since my son died last year of a heroin overdose, the most common response from others has been “I can’t imagine!” Losing your child is unimaginable. A parent is not supposed to outlive their child. It’s contrary to the natural order. He was only twenty-five and never became the beautiful person he was meant to be.
When the call came that he had died (“This is Officer A from Precinct B. Sorry to tell you that your son is dead. If you want to see him before the medical examiners take his body, he’s at this address…”), I faced the

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The Unseen

Ashley, my youngest daughter, has a genetic condition so rare it is still considered “incompatible with life.” Yet today, Ashley is twenty-five, and she hasn’t just survived. She rides horses and she competes in jazz dance recitals with her many friends with intellectual disabilities. When she gets a new dress, she twirls while modeling it for strangers, as if she is on Next Top Model. At age four, she made the front page of our local newspaper because she was so darned cute gritting her teeth as she pulled her walker toward the finish line in her first Special Olympics race. Surely,

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Step by Step

Halfway through my third-year rotations, I was sitting in a hidden enclave in the children’s hospital, trying to eat my lunch and get a bit of rest. By that point in the year, the gray circles under my eyes were darker, my feet hurt more easily, my time was consumed by work and study. Is this all worth it? I often asked myself.

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I Quit!

I HATE nursing! 

I was at Wernersville State Mental Hospital doing my three-month psychiatric rotation as part of my nursing program.

Deciding to leave school, I approached the phone with trepidation. I was nineteen years old, and I needed to convince my parents to let me quit.

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