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For a long time, we’ve resisted posting this theme out of concern that it would generate more heat than light–more vitriol than compassion. But recent legislation that would make abortions illegal in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and now Louisiana has made us think that we need to find a way to broach this subject and talk about it with kindness and respect for one another.
Might we start that conversation by sharing our personal stories about abortion?
I hope so, and I’d like to share two experiences.
A patient of mine, I’ll call her Sandra, came to see me, thrilled to be pregnant with her second child. All seemed to be going well, but then an ultrasound at twenty weeks showed something alarming: the fetus was missing vital organs.
While there was a slight chance that Sandra could continue the pregnancy to term, there was no way that an infant born in this condition could survive.
Sandra was devastated. Truly. She wondered whether the ultrasound could be wrong–and wanted it repeated. She wanted to know what could be done to save this pregnancy. Could a brand-new infant receive organ transplants?
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One Monday morning, a number of years ago, the administrators at the family health center where I used to work instituted a new and time-consuming procedure for registering patients. They did this in an attempt to satisfy the rules and requirements imposed by the many different insurance plans our center accepted.
There was just one problem: the administrators forgot to tell anyone what they’d done–not even the center’s medical director, who happened to be on vacation at the time.
As the clerical staff stumbled over a brand-new, complex set of protocols that day, a line of patients, mostly poor, snaked around the lobby, out the front door onto the sidewalk. Tempers grew short. A fight nearly broke out. We providers sat in the back twiddling our thumbs, waiting for patients to trickle into the exam rooms.
Finally, after an hour-and-a-half, enough patients had been registered so that the line could finally fit inside the lobby. The exam rooms were all filled, and the doctors and nurses were desperately trying to make up for lost time.
At that moment, the health center fire alarm went off–signaling one of our periodic fire drills.
Needless to say, it couldn’t have happened at a …
Every Friday, Pulse–voices from the heart of medicine publishes and distributes a first-person story or poem, together with a visual image or haiku, about health care.
Launched in 2008, Pulse was created by members of the Department of Family and Social Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in collaboration with colleagues and friends around the country.
At a time when the pioneering work of Rita Charon has established the value of narrative medicine–an approach that places a premium on personal perspectives within a healthcare encounter–Pulse makes narrative medicine available to all and accessible to anyone.
Pulse tells the story of health care through the personal experiences of those who live it–patients, health professionals, students and caregivers. While medical care is often rightly criticized for being cold and oblivious, Pulse highlights the humanity and vulnerability of all its actors. In doing so it promotes the humanistic practice of medicine and encourages advocacy for compassionate health care for all.
Since its launch, Pulse has drawn the attention of the national media and policymakers. Widely used by medical educators to promote humanism and professionalism, Pulse enjoys a broad readership drawn to its diverse voices, compelling writing and authenticity.
Pulse welcomes …