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Stories

Going in Peace

All too often in my forty years of practicing medicine, I’ve seen patients die hard, lonely deaths—lying on a stretcher under the emergency department’s glaring lights, or all alone in an ICU bed.

In extreme situations, the patient is covered in medical equipment: a breathing tube in the mouth, defibrillator pads on the chest, monitor leads on the torso, IV lines dangling from the neck and arms. When family members finally enter the room, it’s heart-wrenching to see them weep over their loved one, to whom they never got to say goodbye.

But it doesn’t always happen this way.

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Smells Like Love

The dank, loamy smell fills my nostrils. I turn my head, but cannot escape the odor. It emanates from me, this nauseating scent of sickness and neglect.

It is five days since the surgery, five days since my right breast and multiple lymph nodes were removed. I cannot bathe or shower.

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The Last Gandy Dancer

After I retired, my wife and I moved, giving me a reason to go through my old files. I found the notes from this story scribbled on some scrap paper that used to be everywhere in our offices. “Keep good notes,” someone once advised me. These are good notes and a good story.

Thirty-five years ago I was on the faculty at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and spent a lot of time traveling around the state.

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One Big Stress Test

On Friday, February 29, my wife Mary and I had back-to-back doctor’s appointments at Kaiser Permanente in Moreno Valley—she to talk about a puzzling lethargy that had been dogging her and I to talk about an odd chest pain that I thought a remnant of the flu I’d had in late January.

Dr. McDougal listened to my heart and then listened to my description of the pain.

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An American Journey

I vividly remember sitting in the living room of my grandmother’s house in Piedra Blanca, Dominican Republic. The room had been cleared of furniture. Before me, a flower-filled casket held the body of a young girl—my sister Nelsida, age seven. She had died from an anesthesia overdose prior to surgery.

I was five. I will never forget the sight of the cotton balls inside her nose and ears, the ice under the casket and the scent of the flowers. And that beautiful pink and white dress she wore, with a tiara that was her favorite. In the next room, my mother and sisters were screaming in grief.

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The Joys of Parkinson’s Disease

Two and a half years ago, a movement-disorder specialist confirmed my family physician’s judgment that my problems with balance and walking could be early signs of Parkinson’s disease. That’s exactly what they were. I joined one million other Americans living with this illness.

My symptoms, although mild and so far manageable, are nonetheless evident.

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Father and Son

When I met Mr. Rosenbaum, age ninety, I’d been a physical therapist at the hospital for all of three months.

The nurse had propped up his scabbed foot on several pillows. Cushioned on them like a precious jewel, it extended over the bed’s end.

I introduced myself and asked if he’d like help adjusting his yarmulke, which was entangled in the nasal breathing tube slung around his left ear. He smiled at me, one eye wider than the other. I grinned back, reminded of my own grandpa.

“Are you married?” he asked.

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ECT Saved My Life

It was July, and the weather outside my window was sunny—but inside, it was a different story.

At the beginning of the summer I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I myself thought that I suffered from major depressive disorder.

I felt as though I were sinking into a black hole. My medications didn’t seem to be working, and my psychiatrist was out of the country for the summer.

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When Worlds Collide

Malcolm sat in the ICU bed, propped up on pillows to ease his breathing. At seventy-five, he had suffered respiratory complications after open-heart surgery. He’d been on a ventilator for several weeks before gradually being weaned from it.

Malcolm’s blue golf cap hid a bald pate surrounded by a fringe of silver hair. He always seemed to be smiling, comfortable with himself and what life had thrown his way. His smile had grown even warmer over the past weeks as we’d gradually formed a bond of intimacy.

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