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X Factor

I was a brand-new intern on the intensive-care unit, and Cassandra was the very first patient I saw there. A petite, slender woman, she was rolled in on a stretcher, accompanied by her tall, athletic husband, Jack.
Cassandra was in her twenties, like me–but mortally ill. That grabbed my attention from the start. But the biggest lesson she taught me came about because we got her prognosis all wrong.
She had lupus, an autoimmune disease

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After “All We Could”

 
She is now six years old, attending first grade and riding a bike.

But six years ago, she was in the NICU, with six chest tubes, a ventilator on its maximum settings, and pulse oximetry readings–which should have been close to a hundred–that were dropping into the sixties. X-rays showed everything in its proper place, but this preemie was failing fast.

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The Turkeys

Lou arrived alone when she’d come for her blood pressure and itchy skin. Sharp, funny, she told me of her daughters, grown up and far away, and her life in the neighborhood as it changed around her. She had lived there for decades, long after her husband left, long after raising two on her own, long after the cottages around her were torn down for industrial sites. Neighbors were scarce and stray dogs plenty.

When

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Halfway Home

I met Terry the day after he sat in the back of a pick-up, joyriding on a busy interstate. A big rig whooshed by, sucked Terry out of the truck bed and slammed him into the side of the semi-trailer before he fell back into the truck. One scalp laceration and a few facial scrapes presented evidence of the accident. The damage occurred inside Terry’s head.
 
It shames me to admit I practiced the defense mechanism

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Two Years and a Shadow

Just a shadow over two years ago, my parents’ lives shattered when old age carried deep illness into their home and broke everything into shards. Those shards will be with us forever. They will, I fear, be visited upon seven upon seven generations of sons and daughters and nurses and doctors and therapists and priests and aides and friends, seven generations to come.

The miracle is that

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Alloimmune

“I only have bad options for you.”

I had visited this place, this stifling humid ultrasound room, a thousand times in my fears. But now it was real, and I had a choice to make. All the grinning, stupid hope I had embraced, the idea that this was a walk of faith I could use to teach others, rose up as a dark maroon flush in my chest. Hubris. The ancient Greek kind.

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How Did He Just Wake Up?

 
I hung up the phone in shock. I never felt so helpless.

My brother was lying in a deep coma in a Bronx hospital, and none of his nine siblings were in America. My parents were dead, and the closest relative was my mom’s brother who lived in Canada. He had already booked a flight to New York for the same night.
Sitting in a village in Saudi Arabia, where I worked as a community

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Blessed Events

Although I do not believe in medical miracles, I rejoice in the reality that I have experienced two—when I became pregnant with (and ultimately gave birth to) first my son and then my daughter.

From the age of thirteen-and-a-half, when I began menstruating, until age eighteen, I endured a great deal of pain whenever I got my period. My parents took me to the gynecologist, but he did nothing but assure me that “this too shall

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Be Lucky

Kenneth Zeitler

In 1996, visiting a mall during an out-of-town trip, I suddenly felt dizzy while descending on the escalator. The sensation rapidly resolved, but to be on the safe side, I went to a local emergency room. My evaluation included a CT scan of my head; the results, I was told, were “normal.”

Shortly after returning home I received another call. The CT results were not normal, and I should see a neurologist to

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In the Nick of Time

Barry Thompson

When the ringing woke me at 3:00 a.m., I hoped that it was my alarm clock. For a neurologist on call, middle-of-the-night phone calls mean trouble; as a rule, you don’t get awakened at that hour unless it’s something really serious.

At 6:00 p.m. the prior evening, a young man had shown up in the ER of one of our satellite hospitals with a severe headache. He’d been diagnosed with a tension headache

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