Healing Repeats Itself

I arrive at sunrise to find the asphalt stretching out, dotted with steel beasts. There are no open spaces here. This the parking lot of the ER, where some of our staff are finishing their shifts, and others are about to begin.

There is no difference between day and night here. The staff works round the clock to stem the never-ending barrage of suffering and pain that comes through our doors.

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Symbols of Healing

I conduct a routine physical exam on you one day after you deliver your second child, moving from head to toe. Hunching down to examine your legs for any swelling, I catch a glimpse of your exposed left ankle. Inked in green on your skin are the jagged lines of an EKG signal, neighbored by an image of an eye. “What is this?” I inquire. You tell me about your first child, who was born with a heart defect and cataracts, and about the numerous trips made to the hospital soon after her birth. This tattoo serves as a reminder

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The Limits of Self-Care

I’ve been thinking lately about the perils of self-care. I’m an unlikely critic of anything that promotes wellness, especially among clinicians, who face daily affronts to our desire to care deeply and well for our patients. But hear me out.

We live in a consumerist society. Any notion with a glimmer of truth will be trumpeted, captioned, tweeted, and twisted into a sales pitch, whether by backyard YouTubers or major corporations. I do think self-care is important—of course I do!—but not the way most people understand it.

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Childhood Fever

A kaleidoscope lit the apartment ceiling. Grinning clown faces and animated joker cards tantalized her. The air in the den hung heavy. Perhaps its ions had burst. A loud tarantella was whining in the background.

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Who Am I?

“I’ll see you soon, Dadai,” I enunciated for the third time on the video chat.

He still can’t hear me. 

Before I could repeat myself, tears swelled up in my grandfather’s cavernous eyes as he peered at me through the tiny screen. The screen that was somehow meant to bridge the immense distance between myself and my grandpa in Kolkata, India. I sighed, my heart wrenching at the sight.

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The Invisible String

Although I never met my great-grandmother, I heard many stories about her—often involving ancient healing practices and the interconnectedness of the universe. One such story was her belief in what she called the Invisible String. This string was described as existing in all living things and connecting us to one another, beyond our physical or waking state; in energy healing practices, this is called the Human Energy Field. The first time I heard this story, I felt instantly connected to her with my own inner knowing.

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Navigating the Unfamiliar

The scar from my appendectomy is now over my heart. Last January I traveled to have surgery that I hoped would put me back together again. “You’ll love it,” said the leader of an online group that housed no pictures of what people look like after.

“Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator” surgery is a reconstructive procedure involving the removal, replacement and rerouting of parts. A thick layer of my midsection was rolled back like a weighted blanket and cut to be relocated above. A surgeon scraped bone off and moved an artery from one place to another. Now my lymphatic capillaries and

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Healers Need Healing, Too

When flight attendants deliver safety instructions, they remind us of the need to put on our own oxygen masks first before we try to assist others.

As health-care professionals, our natural tendency is to focus on the well-being of others; that’s what we’ve been trained to do. We give our patients good advice regarding their physical and mental health, yet the environments we work in are not always conducive to our own well-being. The result can be burnout, which is associated with depression, which increases the risk for suicide. In fact, physicians have a higher suicide rate than the general population.

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Thin Red Line

“You’ll feel better after the surgery,” my psychiatrist said, “and the cancer is cut out.” I scoffed. He knew me too well to think it would be that easy to quell my escalating anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy has never been my thing, and there weren’t enough pills in my prescription bottles to make my fears fly out the window as neatly as that 6 mm tumor would be excised from my breast.

The surgery was easy, as was the recovery. The wound healed quickly. Just five weeks later, my scar is a smooth, scarlet sliver that looks more

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Embracing Vulnerability

Her voice trembled as she fumbled with the scrap of paper in her hands. What did I do wrong? Is this the right prescription? Am I going to die? The questions gushed from her all at once.

As a medical student on my first clinical rotation, I was still getting used to how to run these clinic visits. It seemed like no one was ever there for the reason originally listed, and somehow I always ended up with the long-winded patients that kept me in the room so long I was lucky if I made it to the

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Searching for Sparks

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the practice of medicine is not always the practice of wellness. How optimistically I applied to join this profession out of a sense that I intuitively took better care of myself than did many of my peers. I knew that happiness and health intertwined, though my naiveté about how to rescue one if the other faltered was sorely lacking. 

Ahh, youth. Unencumbered by the kind of financial and emotional obligations I would eventually crave, back then I could restore balance with a day trip to wine country, or a chance to ski instead of

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Mutual Wounding, Mutual Healing

One of the hardest parts of being a physician is dealing with the death of a patient. In the course of my career, I’ve learned that the physician-patient relationship can be an effective tool for healing, for the doctor as well as the patient’s family.

An example follows: My patient with advanced COPD died in association with emergency surgery. Despite appropriate care, his condition overwhelmed him. His wife, also my patient, was an assertive, take-charge individual. In addition to blaming herself, she angrily insisted that some error in care led to her husband’s death.

I realized that we had to

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