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I was young when I met Larry. Well, not that young: I was thirty-one. My medical training–thirteen years in all–was finally over, and I was working as an instructor in the child-neurology clinic at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and caring for kids with epilepsy.
My patient Larry was seventeen. A stocky, dark-haired, nonathletic boy with borderline intellectual disability, he suffered from depression, and my notes mentioned his “pugnacious personality.”
On a damp, overcast Friday morning, I was wandering around the downtown area of a nearby city with my camera. I found an interesting scene and photographed it, carefully adjusting my camera’s settings and the composition until I felt I’d conveyed what I’d felt when I saw it.
Lowering my camera from my eyes, I realized that, for the first time in months, my mind felt clear and my heart felt open. This realization struck
Opening my purse to pull out my reading glasses, I notice the small white nasal-spray bottle still encased in its clear plastic packaging. I’ve been carrying it for a few months now. Do I feel reassured seeing it there?
As a physician, I wonder if the chance is greater that I’ll one day use this bottle to save someone’s life than it is that I’ll rescue someone with CPR or the Heimlich maneuver.
It was 5:00 pm in the intensive-care unit, and my team and I had just wrapped up our interview with elderly Ms. Armijo, who was in critical condition after emergency abdominal surgery.
Exhausted after a long day, we headed for the door, the ICU machines and monitors beeping their goodbyes.
Leaving my office this evening, I see the white orchid’s last petal struggling to hold on. With its faded grey veins and withered brown edges, it looks like a bit of old, crumpled paper. Even the sunlight streaming through the window doesn’t brighten it. Tenderly, I reach down to touch its softness.
The touch transports me back to when I first met Shirley, who gave me the orchid. I remember it vividly.
This essay is modeled after Sei Shonogun’s list “Hateful Things” from her tenth-century classic The Pillow Book. She listed everything she hated about being a lady-in-waiting to the Japanese empress, ca. 966-1017.
I wrote my list as a family physician working in community health centers, ca. 2005-2020. As our nation grapples with endemic racism while also facing the COVID pandemic, my trials and tribulations may seem trivial–but they also reflect a broken medical
Years ago, when I first joined the family-medicine faculty of the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), I spearheaded a project to build stronger connections with the surrounding communities, primarily made up of people of color and low-income individuals. Deepening our ties with these communities would, we hoped, give us more understanding of our patients’ health needs, and might help them to feel more receptive to our efforts.
Editor’s Note: Since the end of March, Pulse has been carrying special edition pieces on the impact of the COVID-19 virus on patients, families and healthcare workers. In response to recent events, we bring you this special edition on Racism, which is also the theme of this month’s More Voices. In weeks to come, we hope to continue addressing both Racism and COVID in our special-edition series.
As a pulmonary and critical-care medicine fellow, I care for patients with a broad variety of respiratory ailments. But little did I know, as I examined my patient Mr. Smith in the outpatient pulmonary clinic this past winter, that I’d see him again only months later as my first patient with COVID-19.
Mr. Smith was tough as nails. A stoic retired steelworker and former smoker, he suffered from significant emphysema, but was inclined–by nature and