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Preparing for Takeoff

“As I hang up my uniform, she will put hers on,” my uncle proudly told my aunt when I announced my plan to attend medical school under the auspices of the US Air Force Health Professions Scholarship Program.

Two of my uncles had illustrious Indian Army careers–one as a brigadier general and the other as a lieutenant colonel–but my own military potential was less obvious. I was a stereotypical “girly girl,” a flop in sports

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The Things We Carry

It has been said that we in health care carry a backpack of sorrows.

There is a sanctity to being on the inside, trusted to care for people in their weakest, darkest and most vulnerable moments. When it feels like control is gone, we steady our voices even when we too feel scared.

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Grieving in the Age of Zoom

Oncologists like myself are no strangers to death. It is all too familiar. We give our patients the best that medicine has to offer; we cure them if we can. When our efforts fail, we relieve their pain and ease their suffering. And when they pass away, we grieve. With their friends, colleagues, family members, partners and spouses, we grieve.

Almost by definition, a time of mourning is a time of gathering. Both to grieve

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The Lightest Blue Eyes

Seventeen years ago, I was a senior psychiatry resident, moonlighting on weekends in the psych unit at a small rural hospital. Usually the unit was quiet. In this remote corner of northern Canada, we were taught to value resources and avoid “unnecessary” psychiatry admissions.

Arriving one rainy Friday, I headed to the ER to let them know I was there. Among the mostly frail, elderly patients, one person stood out: a healthy-looking woman in her

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Found Down

I keep having this dream where I’m trying to call 911, and I can’t. I can’t seem to get the phone to work. I become panicked, and I can’t breathe. My heartbeat pounds in my ears, and I feel the sharp taste of bile in my throat.

When I wake up, that shaky feeling of fear and impotence clings to me. I don’t ever remember what was wrong in the dream–why I needed to call

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A Real Family?

A few years ago, a Chicago-area fertility clinic ran a series of radio ads at the same early hour each morning. For weeks, I woke to a woman’s energetic voice cutting through the fog of my semiconsciousness, announcing her gratitude to the center’s reproductive specialists. “Without them,” she proclaimed brightly, “my baby wouldn’t have my blue eyes and my husband’s wide smile.”

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“The Worst Mistake of My Life”

Before stepping into Jasmin’s room, I slathered my hands with cold Purell and began the mundane ritual of donning my PPE. The smell of alcohol filled my nostrils as I grabbed a gown and the paper bag containing my N-95 mask and face shield. Like a seasoned soldier preparing for battle, I put on my gear with ease. With my gloves glued to my skin by sanitizer, I rapped on Jasmin’s door, asking permission to

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Watching Cricket With My Dad

“Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes!” my dad often crows.

This phrase takes me back to my boyhood, watching the Cricket World Cup matches with him. Time and again, I would pray fervently for an Indian win, but watch in increasing desperation as India threw away an insurmountable lead and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Q&A: The COVID-19 Vaccine

“How are you surviving the COVID-19 pandemic?”

Lately, this is my new opening question with patients who come for a routine office visit. As a cardiologist in a community-hospital setting, I see mostly elderly patients.

When I ask my patients this question as they sit on the exam table wearing their brightly colored masks, they usually answer, “I don’t go out much. When I do, I wear a mask and practice social distancing.”

In recent

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The Kiss

The year is 2015, and I’m on my thirteenth surgical mission, but my first to Venezuela. I am a plastic surgeon, traveling with a nonprofit that offers free plastic surgery for people with birth defects such as cleft lip. We’re making a two-week visit to the coastal city of Cumaná, 250 miles east of Caracas.

Halfway through our first day of surgery, I’m asked to come out to the waiting area to assess a young

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“Crisis Care” at the Border

In the time of COVID-19, healthcare workers are stepping up to care for massive numbers of patients. Often, they’re doing this without adequate resources. At the beginning of the pandemic, our hospital administration referred to this as “crisis standard of care”–which the US Institute of Medicine defines as “a substantial change in…the level of care it is possible to deliver, made necessary by a pervasive or catastrophic disaster.”

For many American doctors this model of

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In Need of a Prayer

The new patient’s name is Emmanuel. He was sent from his nursing home to our emergency room with a cough and fever. The oxygen level in his blood is well below normal, and he’s gasping for air.

It’s my third week in the local community hospital ER. I’ve been putting in extra on-call time during the COVID pandemic. It’s been rough to get back into the emergency setting while continuing my day job as a

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