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Tornado, Initial Encounter

Thursday October 31, 2019, 11:00 pm: A forty-five-year-old woman named Maria drove her Subaru Forester along a Pennsylvania highway called the Blue Route, about fifteen miles west of Philadelphia. It was raining heavily. She drove more slowly than she ordinarily would, partly due to poor visibility but also because the wind seemed unusually strong. Her hands firmly gripped the vinyl steering wheel at 10:00 and 2:00, so as not to allow the vehicle to be

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My Own Intervention

A few months ago my friend Phil gave me a newspaper clipping from the Sunday New York Times on body-focused repetitive behaviors, from nail-biting to hair-pulling to skin picking. I know he gave it to me because he wanted to help me with my own problem. He’s heard me express my frustration about it at the support group for faculty in our family-medicine residency.

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Aftermath

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

It’s 8:00 pm.

I’m staring at the IV tubing. We forgot to stop the fluids.

I’m standing in the resuscitation room alongside the naked, broken body of a teenage male. Unable to break my gaze on that dripping IV line, thinking, We’re going to flood him.

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Unforgettable

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.”

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Phototherapy

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

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The Antidote in My Purse

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.

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Only Connect

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.

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The White Orchid

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.

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On Hateful Things

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

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A Question of Trust

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.

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No One Ever Asked

Today I greet Mr. Williams verbally, which is very different for us; usually we say hello with a hug.

“Mr. Williams,” I say, “I’m not going to hug you today, with this pandemic.”

“I get that, Doc,” he answers, adjusting his mask; I can’t tell if he’s smiling or not.

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Life With Father

Life With Father

After forty-three years as a nephrologist-internist and teacher, I recently retired from medicine. This final stage of life is a time of reflection. Was I a good physician? On a more fundamental level, was I a good friend, husband and father?
Despite its many challenges, I have never regretted following my cherished vocation. There were far more rewards than regrets. By contrast, my record as a father feels a bit less exemplary.
During my first

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