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About More Voices

Every month More Voices invites readers to contribute short nonfiction prose pieces of 40 to 400 words on a healthcare theme.

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Crying

Interpreter of Cries

 
It happens daily. I enter a room and come face to face with someone who's afraid of me. But we make friends, we may even laugh and share a high five or two. Then I leave. And from the room next door, I can hear the horrendous cry. The aftermath. 

I'm a pediatrician, and the aftermath is when my capable medical assistant or nurse goes in after me to give a vaccine or check a hemoglobin level or administer a shot of antibiotics because the oral antibiotic isn’t working.

The First

 
I have wanted to work in geriatrics, specifically with people with dementia, since I was in high school. Over the past year, I have been able to volunteer with a program called Opening Minds Through Art (OMA). I have worked at the same site as both a volunteer and a leader and therefore have gotten to know many elders on a personal level.

A woman I volunteered with and hold most dear had a twin sister. Recently, during one of our sessions, I found out that her sister was headed for hospice; the next day, she began the active stages of dying.

The Janitor

 
Outside the OR, at a dictation desk in the cold, quiet hallway, I sat alone. I stared at the black-and-white floor tiles, my eyes tricking me into seeing diamonds, then squares, then diamonds. As if my chest were squeezed in a vise-grip, I could barely take a breath. My body was frozen in place, held stiffly upright by the hard chairback, the only thing keeping me from collapsing inward.

What's Wrong, Dad ?

 
When I walked into my father's hospital room, he began to sob. I didn't cope well with his tears. I experienced them as a reaction to his seeing me and started to beat myself up, to think to myself, What have I done?

A voice at the back of my mind said, This is his illness--you can't take it personally. But even so, I felt hurt by his crying.

Tears of Friendship

 
As an aspiring physician, I recognize that I'll likely be encountering death a great deal in my professional life, since it's impossible to save everyone. So it's probable that somewhere down the line, I'll cross paths with a patient who is a part of my life for only a short time. Is it appropriate to mourn such a loss? Was I important enough to them that they would want me to grieve?

Final Breaths

 
I remember my first code.
 
I was a senior in college, shadowing in the ER on a cold, Sunday night. Decembers in Providence can be brutal.
 
It was 11:30 p.m., and a voice came on the PA, urgency in her voice: "Code Blue, Code Blue." The physician asked me if I had ever seen one before, and when I shook my head, he directed me to Critical Care Room C.
 
Behind a glass wall, I stood in silence, waiting. All the nurses and interns seemed on edge, ready to spring into action. I breathed in and out, in and out.

My First Code


The radio call comes in: “thirty-something male, cardiac arrest, compressions in progress, five minutes out.”

My adrenaline starts pumping. This new patient will be my first time running a code. I can’t help but be excited. 

I claim my place at the head of the bed and start setting up my airway equipment. My brain is methodically running through the ACLS algorithms I have memorized.

Cry for a Stranger


I cried for a stranger today.

Her sister sat expressionless next to her lifeless body, and when I walked into the room, she began crying.

My tears swell. I tell her how sorry I am, and how brave she was. She tells me that her sister died “so quickly and peacefully” and that "it was her time to go." I am grateful she surrendered to the inevitable.

I leave to complete my documentation. Conflicted, I fight tears. I want to cry for her loss and for my loss. But, I am new here. I must make a good impression. What will they think of me? Unprofessional. Emotional. Unstable.

MaMA

 
Day Three: “Mama”–­ accent on the second syllable, “maMA” - how he opened all calls to me. They had put in the PICC line, a catheter in the arm used for long-term intravenous antibiotics, medications and blood draws. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

Who Will Hear a Stored Voice?


I’m crying a lot these days. Goes with the territory, and the triggers are everywhere.

My thirty-one year-old son had a newer laptop than mine and an iPhone 6. My iPhone 5 was a hand-me-down from him. (Prior to that, my iPhone 3 was given to me by a former resident, now friend, who upgraded to a 5 and was tired of mocking me for my flip phone.)

I have been paying my son's cell phone bill since he died on 1/16/17. I told myself I would do this until I could get it backed up so I could have his contacts, pictures and music (most of the music that I do not even like) until I can face going through the contents. And then I could expropriate it to be my phone. It's the same with his laptop: I don't want to lose what's on there. 

Trusting the Process


As a rookie psychologist, I knew I had much to learn. Burdened with perfectionism, I had self-doubts about technique and process. I so wanted to do it right.

One day I was assigned a young client—a girl of no more than twelve, whose grandfather was anxious to have her seen by a therapist. His wife was dying, and the child’s mother had no interest in raising her. To complicate matters, the relationship with the grandmother was full of resentment on both sides. Not ideal in any way. 

Kleenex

 
Twenty minutes behind as I knocked on the exam room door and entered. No need for introductions. We knew each other well. We skipped the "asking the patient her goals for the visit." I already knew them. Twenty years of caring for and being trusted by a patient and a friend allows that. Her goals were the same as mine. We were there to tell the truth.

I Didn't Know

 
In my second year of college as a premed, I signed up to be an emergency room volunteer at a municipal hospital located just off campus. It was 1969, and the neighborhood reflected the larger urban community, including both established residents and newly arrived immigrants.

No Laughing Matter

 
"You need a fifth surgery," the maxillofacial surgeon tells me. "Heterotopic bone is again growing over your prosthetic device."

For eight years I have endured intense pain in my left jaw. While having four surgeries, I have also undergone Botox treatment, acupuncture and physical therapy; taken a variety of medications prescribed by pain doctors, neurologists and my primary care physician; and used specially made creams, ice and heat on the affected area. Nothing has worked.