A Little Gesture Goes a Long Way

In the past year, I have attended multiple diversity training sessions that have opened my eyes to understanding health equity, social injustice, and institutionalized racism. Prior to this, I had not fully understood or acknowledged my white privilege. And I did not know how to use that privilege to be an advocate for those who have little to no voice and who can be taken advantage of by the health-care system.

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I Carry Her Memory

Ms. K was one of the oldest patients I’d met. I wanted to sit and hear her stories, to say, “Tell me more,” the way we learned in medical school. But the equipment sustaining her left no room for a chair to sit in. And COVID had stolen her ability to speak in sentences; she puffed out words two or three at a time before inhaling again. Even so, each word was sharp and spirited and made me smile.

Her face was a rich and deeply wrinkled landscape. Ms. K’s gown hung loosely on her, exposing the silhouettes of her

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Another Day on the Calendar

“And the year 2020 came to an end and they all lived happily ever after.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all leave this year behind and be certain of the “happily ever after” part?

I have often wondered at the hype that typically accompanies the end of a year and the beginning of another, especially since the year starts and ends at different times, depending on which calendar we choose to follow. The Jewish New Year and the Chinese New Year do not coincide with the 1st of January, and they do not even occur on the same

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Coming Out of Retirement

People cheered the first trucker transporting a huge load of COVID-19 vaccines as he left the Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The news anchor exclaimed, “This just might be the beginning of the end.” That driver represented one individual in a long chain of workers besides doctors and nurses needed to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

A  few days before, an email from the state health commissioner had popped up in my in-box. Its subject line caught my attention: “Urgent: Volunteers Needed for Vaccination Campaign.” To me, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel now that a vaccine is

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The Doorknob Moment

“Doc, can I say just one more thing?”

Every clinician knows this moment—the so-called doorknob moment, when your hand is reaching for the exam-room door, and your patient asks the question that’s been on their mind the whole visit. It’s the issue that’s been nagging them, usually an embarrassing or emotionally laden issue, sometimes both. Every clinician knows better than to walk out on a doorknob moment.

I sit back down. “What’s on your mind?”

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She Went Home: End of Life in the Era of COVID-19

The mother had delivered a healthy newborn. After a careful instrument count and exchanging pleasantries, I headed for the shower. It was getting late, and I had unfinished business.

On to the ICU, but not for my usual reasons. I heard sounds of beeping intensify just before I entered the room, and I felt an ache inside. My eyes focused on the vital signs on the screen. I sat down. “Good evening,” I said.

A smile spread across her face. Struggling, she said,  “Good evening, I love you.” I was relieved, at least for the moment. Until then, I did

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Chapters in a Life Story

My patient, Mary Kay, was a take-charge person. Even after a surgical error left her legs completely paralyzed, at age 48, she adjusted well to living in a nursing home and was dynamic, intelligent, and dedicated to her family and friends. Some of her friends even enjoyed a weekly martini with her.

After her tragic medical experience, but before I assumed her care, Mary Kay’s husband, unable to live without her, had taken his own life. Thereafter, with the best of intentions, her family withheld other unpleasant news from her, including hiding her granddaughter’s chronic fluctuating illness. Mary Kay secretly

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Transition

“Hi, Sue,” I said. “Here’s my letter of retirement.”

“You know I don’t want to hear this,” she replied.

“Yes, but the time has come, and I’ve been clear about my intentions for several months.”

“Do you think you could work a few extra months so you can help us find and train your replacement?”

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Time to Step Aside

When I was straight out of residency training, my first practice was on a small island off the coast of New England. I embraced the challenge of providing the full range of services that I had learned as a family physician, but that definitely proved to be an uphill climb on a number of levels, both personal and professional.

Although I soon felt very connected with the islanders in general and my patients, my wife and I missed our families back in New York and the familiar offerings of a  suburban community. So after three years, I decided to move

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Turning Red to Green

I frequently let endings dominate my life. My leaving home for graduate school ended my secure life under the care of my parents. My marriage ended my existence as a single woman who charted her own course, while my divorce ended my status as a married woman. Retiring ended my decades as a middle school teacher. The death of my parents ended my identity as a child and gave me a new persona as a sixty-seven-year-old orphan.

I have tried to teach myself, especially during these pandemic days of isolation and introspection, that with each ending comes a beginning. Life

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An Editor’s Invitation: Endings and Beginnings

Dear Pulse readers,
A colleague who is leaving our practice for California asked me today if I would be willing to assume the care of one of his patients–someone who asked him specifically if I could become her new doctor.
I warily perused her chart and counted forty-one medical problems, from the trivial to the life-threatening, anxiety prominent among them. She seemed a busy bee of a patient, with eleven appointments scheduled for this coming month alone. She’s keeping a lot of doctors hopping, I thought. And soon enough, I’ll be one of them.
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Life Gives Us Choices (Sometimes)

I recently heard that a former coworker had passed away. The news took me by surprise, as I had not known that she was ill. I was told she had cancer and had made the choice to let it run its course without treatment. Earlier in my career, I probably would have questioned this decision. Why refuse treatment, when it’s available? Why not do everything possible to “beat” the cancer?

I do not know the details of her illness, or at what stage the cancer was diagnosed, but I realize that she made an informed choice and that it was

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