Ground In

I lay on the pavement weeping, my bicycle on its side. I’d received the blue Schwinn on my 9th birthday, and it was still too big for me—a small-built girl with weak legs, just recovered from mono after a year spent sitting out most activities. No jump-rope, hopscotch, or bicycle, the pediatrician said. For months, I just sat on the patio (for fresh air, mother said) reading or drawing.

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Cancer during COVID

The sky darkens outside my window in Shanghai. My grandma used to call this plum rain: rains during the hot months, when plums wither away, turning juice to clouds, waiting to flood the dry land.

In the spring, my grandma tasted blood in her mouth. A week later, she was diagnosed with oral cancer. Doctors said it was merely a benign tumor, a natural part of aging. But within weeks, her body had shrunk like a deflated balloon and eating was painful. A few months later, the tumor had metastasized, spreading into her lymph nodes.

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Knowledge Is Power

“Knowledge Is Power” proclaims a magnet on my refrigerator. The magnet is from the New York Public Library, but the sentiment is from Francis Bacon—and I embrace it as if it’s absolutely and invariably true. That is, when faced with a quandary in an unfamiliar area, I start digging for information with the intensity of a terrier whose prey is just out of reach. Especially when I’m faced with medical quandaries.

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All Rashed Out

What will tomorrow bring? This is the theme running in my head today as I zip in and out of patients’ rooms: listening, comforting, joking. And, just trying to get through the day.

They aren’t the only ones who are sick. I am still rashed out on my face and neck from one month ago.

Post-COVID, Round 3. A rash. Intense itching. Angioedema (swelling). Shortness of breath. My allergist and dermatologist are scratching their heads, trying to figure this out.

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Ideally and Sometimes

Ideally, coping is sitting down and having dialogues with myself, friends, or good colleagues about what bothers me. It is asking for advice and sharing my thoughts. It is writing down what I can do to solve problems and then creating an action plan.  

Sometimes, however, coping is … 

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Making My Way with Grief

I make my way with grief. Our son Max died by suicide eight years ago. Quickly deciding against suicide for myself, I’ve found ways to cope.

I do twenty push-ups each morning, dedicating them to Max and using the physical pain to exorcise the emotional pain. I began this ritual soon after Max died, when I would start in on my day oblivious to the pain lying in wait beneath my sleep-refreshed, early-morning optimism. Then, at some moment, maybe hours later, I’d remember that Max was dead and double over in grief.

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The Solace of Anger

I first felt driven to pursue a medical education during my Peace Corps service in rural southern Belize. My work partner was the village’s community health worker. Our duties varied and depended on the season, weather, and amount of laundry that needed washing that day—which we scrubbed at the river’s edge with freshly picked soapberries. Sometimes we made oral rehydration salts for villagers with diarrhea. Or we visited the pregnant and the elderly. Or we made tortillas.

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Meditation in Medicine

The sun shone brightly reflecting the ripples off the pond. Closing my eyes, I tried meditation for the first time in a long time. Balancing caring for patients in the wards, being evaluated by my team, and applying for residency, I felt more stressed than I had been in a long time.

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Situational Depression?

Sad, tired, and vulnerable, I plopped into my usual seat in my therapist’s office. As a third-year medical resident, I felt like a poster child for imposter syndrome. For months, my mood had been low, I was not enjoying life, and I was struggling.

My therapist gently commented, “I think it’s time for meds, Pam.”

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Taking Charge

I take Osher classes—courses designed for senior citizens—to exercise my mind. However, I had another reason for recently enrolling in a class on “Adapting to the New Normal”: a desire to improve my coping skills. When facing an upsetting situation, I typically cry, gobble bags of dark chocolate M&Ms, retreat from society, or sink into depression. Sometimes, I simultaneously do all four.

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August More Voices: Coping

Dear Pulse readers,

For years my family has attended religious services at a Unitarian Universalist congregation. In this congregation, our minister gets Sunday off every few weeks, and the service is led by a different group of congregants. Everyone gets to participate.

The themes of these congregant-led services often involve coping. They might be summed up as: “What keeps me going?”

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