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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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Coming Clean

The exam room bears an odor; it’s a musty sweetness, not unpleasant, but one that I know well–fetor hepaticus, a sign of severe liver disease.

My patient, Ms. Atkins, slouches on the exam table, brooding. She’s thirty-four years old, and an alcoholic. She is joined by her mother and her five-year-old daughter, Mari, who skips to my side, long braids bouncing off her shoulders.

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Inside the Respiratory Tent

Inside the Respiratory Tent

Spring comes slowly to New England. When I leave the house in the mornings at the end of April, I pull my fleece jacket tighter around me on my way to the car. My preteen daughter’s dark eyes and solemn mouth watch from the second-floor window as I pull away.
In the “don and doff” station at the respiratory tent in the hospital parking lot, I put on a gown and gloves, then take one

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Put to the Test

Put to the Test

I’m a primary-care doctor in Washington state. I was recently confronted with a ticklish and painful situation.
Here are the facts and the sequence of events:
On a recent Wednesday morning, I saw a forty-five-year-old woman in my office for an earache. She told me that a member of her church had been diagnosed with coronavirus, and that many schools in the area were being closed because of possible exposure. Later that day I started

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Last Day

Last Day

It’s my job to empty a plastic bag
filled with meds both past and present
and read out loud the labels of those we stopped,
and explain why, and while we’re on why
why he needs oxygen at night, and the rescue inhaler.
Between pills it’s my job to ask in a generic way
about life outside the clinic? He takes out his phone
because his story needs a prop.
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A Flower in Winter

A Flower in Winter

It’s winter of 1993. A cold, snowy day. Windy. A blizzard. The phone rings.

I’m not on call for my patients today–except for one. Daisy has been in my care since the early 1970s, and given the risk that she may suffer a serious downturn, I’ve instructed her nursing home to call me whenever necessary.

This is that call. Daisy, my dear lady, the old artist, is dying.
Throughout her nine decades of

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Shock Treatment

I sat in the cold, sterile examination room, anxiously awaiting my new orthopedic doctor–the fourth in two months. I was losing hope of ever finding a doctor who would listen to me. The first three had suggested that my pain was all in my head
I want someone to take me seriously, I brooded. I don’t want to be brushed off as the stereotypical hysterical female. My pain is real, and I’m not crazy. I

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Exit Interview


Tamra Travers ~

“I’m graduating and leaving our clinic in June.”

Over and over again, in the months leading up to this transition, I break this news to my primary-care patients. I have developed many meaningful relationships with patients over my past three years of training as a family-medicine resident in a large, urban health center in Manhattan. But now it is time to leave and move on.

The fluorescent lights

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