Answer: Based on my observations, it’s the Christian Bible. During my psychiatry rotation in the third year of medical school, I saw so many patients researching, reading and preaching the word of God. Clearly, in those pages they found something they needed: vengeance against those who’d wronged them, a secret prophecy, confirmation of their sanity. Or maybe they saw the central message:
Startled out of sleep, I reflexively reach for my beeping pager. For a split second, I lie poised between wakefulness and terror in the pitch-dark resident call room, not sure where I am or what happened. I resolve to sleep with the lights on from now on.
I dial the call-back number.
“Pod A,” a caffeinated voice chirps. It’s Candice, one of the nurses.
“Hi. Amy here, returning a
“Nursing students needed to work in the University Hospital, good pay, orientation.”
As a rising nursing-school senior in the 1970s, I naïvely applied for the job above without getting the full details. No one mentioned that I’d be working in a psychiatric unit housing twenty-five aggressive, catatonic or schizophrenic patients, many of whom had been locked away for years.
The entrance sign, which should have read “Locked Psych/Med/Surg Unit,” said
We’re sitting in a circle: seven women and me. Most are in their thirties and forties, and in their second, third or fourth month of sobriety. They look professional in the suits they’ve assembled from the donations closet of our inner-city recovery center.
I start things off by reminding everyone that this is the last day of the group. The last hour, in fact.
All eyes turn to Dorothy.
Dorothy is a proud
Stanley H. Schuman
In Aramaic scripture*, and Aboriginal Dreamtime.
How else could animal life begin
Except by Divine Breath, oxygen-enriched?
How ingenious! Only two atoms: O2,
Ideal for hemoglobin, mitochondria,
Neurotransmitters, ideal for fight or flight, for vocalizing,
For clever humans to shape tools, split atoms,
Compose opera, sow seeds, harvest grain.
Consider my distress, in my just-opened pediatric office.
Stumped by Angela, a three-year-old
So panicked by my white coat, no way to examine
Amy Cooper Rodriguez
It’s been almost ten years since Esther died, and I still think of her almost every day. I was her physical therapist at a rehabilitation hospital. My patients had many different diagnoses–head injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, hip or knee replacements. I was in my early twenties. I thought that if I tried hard enough, I could help everyone. And often, I could.
“What are you going
“I can feel the life force leaving me,” Mike says as he massages my legs with his rough, careful hands. He doesn’t use oil or lotion like the other massage therapists. Just his sticky, Marlboro-scented fingers. I lie in my underwear beneath a green sheet. My bony shoulder blades and crooked spine press into the table, having long since lost their cushion of muscle.
“We’re getting older,” Mike says, even though we’ve barely
“You’re a real piece of work!” he spat at me. He was a patient named Martin; I was the supervising physician, trying to role-model for a second-year resident how to conduct a difficult conversation with patients like this.
So far, not so good.
At first glance, Martin seemed an ordinary-looking older man, with close-cut gray hair and plain-framed eyeglasses. But I was struck by his scowl–he was expecting an argument, perhaps because during
I pulled back the plunger, sucking lidocaine from the bottle into the syringe as I prepared to lance Jimmy’s abscess. A voice in my head kept repeating, like a mean-spirited parrot, that I’d never done this procedure before–not even under supervision, and certainly not by myself…
I’d met Jimmy two months earlier. He’d come into our clinic with a fever, shortness of breath, a horrible cough, and a crumpled paper photocopy of a