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A Doctor’s Dilemma

Jessica Zitter

It was my first day at my new job, practicing a new specialty. Having spent fourteen years as an ICU physician–including a four-year pulmonary/critical-care fellowship in this very hospital–I had just completed a palliative-care fellowship. Now I was the hospital’s palliative-care consult attending.

When I set eyes on the patient in room 1407, my first thought was: THIS LADY NEEDS TO BE INTUBATED–STAT!

The only trouble was that my job was to ease

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Last Rites

Candice Carnes

In 2002, I was living in Albuquerque and working as a nursing assistant. My staffing agency had assigned me to a medical surgical floor at a hospital in Santa Fe, a fifty-minute drive away.

One day, as I was enjoying the high-desert beauty en route to the hospital, a code was called.

The patient’s name was Sam, as I recall. It could have been anything, but Sam is the name that echoes in

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The Pros and Cons of Living with a Terminal Illness

Ellen Diamond

Before I retired in 2000, I worked in a state agency as a peer counselor, or more formally, an employee assistance program (EAP) coordinator. The “coordinator” part was there because my job description wasn’t actually to do counseling; it was to assess the problem and refer the client for help.

But of course both of those processes involved counseling. We just couldn’t call it that.

In 1986, shortly after I’d begun the job,

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Consult

Daniel Becker

Once the tube is out it takes her a minute to turn blue and relax. Another minute to lose her pulse. I learned as a student to feel the difference between the pulse in my fingers and the pulse at the patient’s wrist. Or thought I learned. When you listen for a heart to stop you start to hear heart sounds that might not be there. Like waking up at night thinking you

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Saving Grampa

Alia Moore

You were supposed to die of cardiac arrest as you circled toward home plate. Or of a brain aneurysm in the summer during one of your countless hikes through the mountains.

You weren’t supposed to die here. Not in a hospital bed, inhabiting this fragile new body, with an oxygen tube in your nose and tumors in your lungs.

Two days before you left us, I traveled home to visit you. I’d last

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The Couple Next Door

Kelly McCutcheon Adams

In 2005, my husband and I bought a small farmhouse in northern New England next door to Tom and Sally.

They were in their early seventies, married nearly fifty years, with a large family. Tom’s grandfather had built a farmhouse in 1900 on the family’s small pig farm. In the 1970s, Tom and Sally had parceled off the land and built a modern house for themselves, a stone’s throw from the old

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Eleventh Hour

K.D. Hayes

Uncle Walt died this morning. Finally.

 I say “finally” because I believed this day would come four months ago, when he had emergency bypass surgery.

At the time, I didn’t believe Walt would live; he was an ailing, seventy-seven-year-old man with severe pulmonary disease. When his heart started to hurt one Friday, his doctors told him, “With bypass surgery, you might live. Without it, you’ll be dead before the weekend is over.”

Walt’s

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A Different Kind of Miracle

Anita Fry

Once upon a time, I was a newspaper journalist: I chased down sources and sweated over deadlines. Then, in mid-career, I switched to doing marketing and communications for a regional healthcare system. This consisted of a large hospital and many outpatient clinics, including a community cancer center.

Because I handled communications work for the cancer center, I also had a seat on the Cancer Committee–an oversight group of oncologists, pathologists, nurses and other

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One Last Sale

Judith Reichtein

“Did you sell the business yet?”

I marvel at my patient Jack: despite his breathlessness, he’s somehow managed to greet his wife Sara with a complete sentence. Given his condition, it’s truly amazing. 

Most of his lung function has been devastated by his forty-year, pack-a-day smoking habit; the rest has been demolished by cancer. The easy, automatic breathing he once took for granted is just a memory. He can’t even lie

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Return of the Hero

Peg Ackerman

Blanched by anemia, Mary rested quietly in the hospital bed. Her pallor made her barely visible amid the bleached bed linens–she seemed a mere shock of white hair against the pillowcase. 

Age ninety-three, she’d visited the hospital a half-dozen times in as many months, shuttling between nursing home and hospital as many elders unwittingly do in their last year of life. She may have preferred to stay put, but no one knew for sure:

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Cross-Examination

Paul Rousseau

“I want everything done. Please, Dr. Rousseau, do everything. We have two children–they can’t be without their father. Do you understand? Do what it takes to keep him alive!”

Angie, a petite woman with long blonde hair, fixes me with piercing blue eyes. Her husband, Joe, fifty-two, has scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. In its most devastating form, it hardens the skin and destroys the kidneys, heart and lungs.

Joe is

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Nineteen Steps

Priscilla Mainardi

Tuesday morning, eight o’clock, and I have seven things to do. Check vitals, change a dressing, get a patient out of bed, send another to the operating room. Review lab results, give medications, start a blood transfusion.

I have six patients, and they have an average of five morning medications each. I make three trips to the med room for supplies, two trips to the pantry for fresh water. 

Mrs. Napoli has eight

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