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Walking in Beauty

The 11,306-foot summit of Mount Taylor in northwestern New Mexico was my destination one sunny autumn morning. But what I sought that day was something else: understanding and forgiveness.

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Caught in the Middle

One day several decades ago, after morning rounds, Dr. Prescott slipped into the ER where I was the cardiac nurse. She did something a doctor would never do: She placed her leather medical bag on a stretcher instead of on the desk. Her eyes locked onto mine.

“I’m having a heart attack,” she said calmly.

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I Wish I’d Known

From the computer screen a few inches away, Oliver’s honey-brown eyes gazed into mine in the unadulterated way that only children’s eyes can, matching the directness of his question:

“Is he going to die?”

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This Isn’t Worth It

While sitting on the exam room table in my cardiologist’s office, I began thinking about the many years we’ve had these semiannual appointments. I’ve had not one but two emergency open-heart surgeries.

In a few months, it will be exactly nineteen years since my first surgery, I thought. That means I’ll be starting my twentieth bonus year of life!

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A Doctor’s Visit

My new doctor enters the examining room where I have been waiting for him, seated on a rumpled paper sheet at the edge of a brown leather lounge chair. Behind the doctor’s blue mask, he is wearing a furrowed brow of worry.

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The Fight of His Life

During the early months of the COVID pandemic, the Utah medical school where I teach asked me to facilitate a small group of first-year students in Layers of Medicine—a course that covers what you might call the “messy” side of medicine, including end-of-life discussions.

Just after the course started, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. All at once, I felt my personal and professional responsibilities intersect, unexpectedly and powerfully.

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The Other Side of the Mask

I don’t know what it’s like on the other side of the mask.

Not the cloth mask, which I now wear every day, as habitually as my socks. I mean the plastic bipap mask, which provides the highest level of ventilation COVID patients can receive, short of intubation.

That mask.

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A Time to Mend

“After eighty-five years of life, I still don’t know what death is,” said Lonnie, as I sat beside her bed in the nursing home. “I just know it scares the heck out of me.”

Despite decades as a hospice social worker, I don’t know what death is either; but I’ve spent much time with patients exploring the question together.

“What scares you?” I asked.

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Command Performance

The reasons not to go to Mary’s wedding seemed overwhelming.

She was neither a family member nor even a close friend: She had, in fact, been my psychotherapy patient several years back. The very notion of attending her wedding raised the issue of professional boundaries: Wasn’t it inappropriate for me to see a patient outside of the office setting?

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