Balancing Act

Tim sat across from me in the small exam room. He was a friend, a colleague, and my doctor. He’d seen me for many years. “We’re walking a tightrope,” he said. Tim’s words rang true. We were balancing my many, complex medical problems.

For me, each day had bocame a carefully choreographed dance. Medications, IV antibiotics, a feeding tube, breathing treatments. A series of precisely coordinated steps, all to forestall my death. I learned to duck under the terror, to tamp down my fear.

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I’m not sure why I scrawl quotation marks around the word “dead” when it should be bolded or underlined.

I jot my notes out of habit, as if this were any other call from a referring physician. I make my usual box in front of her name to check off when she arrives at the hospital and has been assigned to a team.
But, of course, she won’t arrive and be assigned to a team because she is dead.

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A Village of Doctors

During a regular physical two years ago, my internist offhandedly commented that he’d heard lung sarcoidosis can recur. I smiled to myself as I thought how strange he should mention that, exactly fifty years since my own diagnosis with the disease. I remembered its onset as if it were yesterday—bronchitis, Bell’s palsy, the painful bumps of erythema nodosum, general respiratory symptoms, and a positive skin test.

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Avoiding a 3 a.m. Awakening

My subconscious is wiser than I am, and I’ve learned to pay attention to what awakens me at 3 a.m. Maybe others have had that experience, too ― no patient, no friend, no one ― has ever complained when I call (after sunrise) and start with, “I woke up this morning thinking about you.”

Part of why the subconscious is wise, I think, is because it gets to work in a brain that has slowed down from the too-busyness of the day. In the stillness of the night, it asks, “What about this?”

Even as a child, I realized that the only constant in life was change. That recognition brought me angst, resulting in many panic attacks. I am a person who likes routine. I am a person who likes to know what tomorrow will bring.

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Editor’s Invitation: Uncertainty

Dear Pulse readers,

I think it’s fair to say that we’re living in uncertain times.

A pandemic, urgent calls for racial justice and an election year all cry for our attention against a backdrop of global warming. The stakes are high. The outcomes are still unknown.

At the same time, in our personal lives, we need to make choices based on the information at hand. It’s not always easy.

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Learning to Speak Up

Jack’s schizophrenia prevented him from understanding the importance of taking antibiotics for a diabetic leg ulcer. As a student nurse, I was caring for him on the psychiatric unit where I worked.  Based on his olive skin, Jack may have been of Greek descent. Average height and weight, he had thinning black hair, beady eyes, and a hooked nose. Jack’s face remained expressionless, and he usually kept his head down, shoulders hunched.

He’d been found wandering the streets, years ago, so we didn’t know much about him. Jack rarely spoke, and I wondered if he’d suffered

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Like a Puzzle

I was a brand new pediatrician, the most junior faculty member in a medical college in India. The typical diagnoses were different from most that I’d seen in my residency, which meant that every case was like a puzzle. But I was enjoying the challenge, as it led to lots of interaction with faculty in other departments.

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Hospital Near Dublin

I tiptoed into the slippery hallway of the hospital near Dublin where I’d stayed for three weeks as a baby, trying to find some answers as to why I had been there. I still expected to be reprimanded by sisters—what nurses are still called in Ireland—with raw faces and pursed lips.

The walls were awash in institutional sea-foam green. My boyfriend at the time took a picture of my frightened face, the flash bleaching me out to only dark eyes.

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