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I entered her room and introduced myself in the usual fashion. Jennie and Mike welcomed my visit. I explained that I wrote “patient stories” at the hospital and asked if they would enjoy telling me about themselves. They readily agreed.
Mike explained that Jennie’s vital organs were shutting down. Together they agreed to hospice care for her that morning.
She smoked. There was always a pack of Lark cigarettes on the kitchen table next to a half-empty cup of lukewarm coffee. I couldn’t stand the smell of coffee for years because it was comingled in my nostrils with curling cigarette fumes. I had to beg her not to smoke in the car, where the combination of motion and tobacco smoke nauseated me until I had to yell to my father to stop the car, just in time to open the door and throw up on the side of the road.
I sat by her bed for many consecutive days in the ICU, tubes running out from under stiff white sheets, making the trip to Boston after working all day. No hope was whispered around corners, from the quiet lips of nurses, and in a physician’s office the impossibility of a heart valve replacement was given to us.
The ticking of a hand-wound clock and the voice of my father’s aunt were what I first noticed as I tried to sit quietly on a Victorian chair with curved wooden legs and a not-very-soft needlepointed seat. I wasn’t able to sit still for long. “Go into the kitchen and get a watermelon pickle,” my great-aunt said merrily. Legally blind due to glaucoma, she could see only shadows and silhouettes. I was an avid reader as a child, so blindness terrified me. Although she applied drops to her cloudy eyes, there were limited treatments and no cure in 1965.
He sits on a stool in his office, scrolling quickly through hundreds of images, slowing briefly to scrutinize one. Those of us walking by and looking over his shoulder are awed: His practiced eye knows exactly what to look for after more than 30 years doing this.
No watch discloses how many hours he’s been reading mammography images—his unconscious goal being to avoid missing even one anomaly before he moves on to the next image. His coffee cup sits empty by his elbow, next to his long-forgotten breakfast sandwich.
When I was a child, I never saw my mother unclothed; she always got dressed and undressed in the semidarkness of her bedroom. I caught a glimpse of her bare thigh once, until she told me it was rude to look. If I woke up in the late evening and knocked on the door of our only bathroom, I was admitted to pee only after mother had covered herself with washcloths while reclining in her nightly bubble bath. All I could see were pale, bare shoulders above the bubbles.
A couple of summers ago, I spent ten weeks in Pullcapa, Peru. I was a mere time zone away from everything I knew; at the same time, I was in a completely different world. I worked at a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of the indigenous Shipibo-Conibo population. In this space, I was ready to delve into global health, improve my Spanish, and appreciate Peruvian culture through meeting people and exploring my environment.
You, an astrobiologist, fly up from NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., to visit me, a sophomore in college, at Yale-New Haven Hospital. I’ve just had a new type of chest catheter inserted: a “port-a-cath,” a subcutaneous device to replace my Hickman catheter. It promises a reduced chance of infection. But you didn’t need to come all this way, for such a minor surgery.
Julie was in the twelve-week, RN-to-BSN capstone course I taught. I suggested students create a project from an issue they were passionate about because it could prepare them for a master’s thesis or even lifelong work. Julie chose teaching parishioners at her church healthier eating habits. She believed they could reduce risks from high blood pressure that disproportionately affect BIPOC (Black, indigenous, persons of color) communities.
On the Mayo Clinic web site, Julie found the “DASH Diet,” (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), and she decided to implement its information and teaching materials.
Nine years ago, when moving into our current home, the neighbors warned us: “This street gets water. But don’t worry, it only floods during the ‘100-year rainfalls!’” Looking back, it appears “100-year” is an understatement, given the three flooded basements we’ve navigated in under a decade! Thankfully, our basement stays dry since we have replaced multiple sump pumps and added a generator. But, what if we couldn’t afford to spend thousands on this?
I was forever awakened to the impact of climate change on lives and homes.
Food is often a focus of the festivities and family gatherings that mark the holidays. But unfortunately, a season that should be a time of rest and joy can turn stressful, when food that’s meant to be enjoyed becomes a source of anxiety and guilt.
Holiday behaviors for many people include overeating, followed by New Year’s resolutions to eat less and exercise more. On the other hand, those with eating disorders may dread being confronted with so much food and having to explain why they are not “indulging” like everyone else.