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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

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Colored Darkness

“You know how empowering it was for me to walk out into the ocean without my shirt on?” asked my twenty-four-year-old cousin Neil after we’d returned from a day of swimming and sunning at the beach.

For me, it had been a rare and welcome break from my coursework in medical school, where I had just started my fourth year.

It was the first time I had worn a bikini in public after years of veiling myself in shirts and

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Treating a Messiah

It was my very first day of psychiatry rotation in my family-medicine residency at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

This rotation took place at the old Ben Taub Hospital with its unmistakable odor–a combination of drugs, detergents, illness and death. Even if I were taken there blindfolded, one sniff would tell me that I was at Ben Taub.

At any rate, having survived my first seven months of residency, I was feeling a little

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Where My Story Ends and Yours Begins

It was a Thursday morning, my first day on the medical oncology service. I hurriedly gathered my white coat and badge, the block letters “3rd Year Medical Student” unmistakable in fresh ink. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to look up at the cancer center.

This is going to be difficult, I thought.

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Everyone Has a Story

As I’ve learned in my three years as a medical student, medicine teaches us to place one another in cardboard boxes with worn-out, silver duct-tape labels: “Difficult” patients, tolerable colleagues, children working as family translators, nurses balancing too many beds, the old man who just needs someone to talk to. Like everyone else, I’ve gotten comfortable interacting within the boundaries of these boxes. It’s easier. It’s safer.

And then came Shirley.

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Jell-O, Phone Calls and Other Small Stuff

As I reflect on my year of clinical rotations as a medical student, my mind instantly conjures up some of the biggest moments I’ve experienced.

There have been euphoric highs, like delivering a beautiful baby girl to first-time parents on Mother’s Day. And heartbreaking lows, like having a panic attack in the bathroom after a patient with psychosis shared his delusions about race with me.

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Angel of Healing

A small wooden figure watches over my office. Four inches tall, hand-carved, neatly painted wood—an angel figurine with golden hair, majestic wings and a simple pure-white gown. Throughout my day seeing patients as an internal medicine and pediatrics resident, this angel watches over me—a constant reminder.

Two years ago, as a fourth-year medical student, I was on my internal medicine “acting internship” on the general internal medicine floor. This service was known for great teaching

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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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The Wizard and I

He’s wearing a Yankees T-shirt, an EpiPen holstered to his belt like a lightsaber. We’re old friends. Trevor has been my patient for four years—more than half his life.

This will be our last visit: After forty years, I’m retiring.

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Mind Boggling

“Eleven years ago, I wasn’t as old as I am now—which is a funny thing!” Virginia Mitchell tells me.

She’s dressed as if she picked her clothes using yellow Benjamin Moore paint samples: bright canary shirt, mustard pants, daffodil leather shoes. Last week’s theme was purple, topped off with a violet scarf; another time it was green, accented with a chartreuse ascot.

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Hard Traveling

I heard him coming before I saw him.

Kerflop…kerflop…kerflop….

The sound grew louder as a pale, gaunt man in a red Toyota pickup truck pulled into our clinic’s lot. He parked in front of the window where I was seated.

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Last Patient of the Day

Last patient of the day, and of the work week! I was finishing what felt like my Thursday Night Endurance Test, after which I could go home to my family, and eventually to bed.

As on so many Thursdays, I was running behind. My final appointment was with a new patient, Ann Miller. Before entering the exam room, I did some fact-finding.

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