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Smells Like Love

The dank, loamy smell fills my nostrils. I turn my head, but cannot escape the odor. It emanates from me, this nauseating scent of sickness and neglect.

It is five days since the surgery, five days since my right breast and multiple lymph nodes were removed. I cannot bathe or shower.

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One Big Stress Test

On Friday, February 29, my wife Mary and I had back-to-back doctor’s appointments at Kaiser Permanente in Moreno Valley—she to talk about a puzzling lethargy that had been dogging her and I to talk about an odd chest pain that I thought a remnant of the flu I’d had in late January.

Dr. McDougal listened to my heart and then listened to my description of the pain.

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The Joys of Parkinson’s Disease

Two and a half years ago, a movement-disorder specialist confirmed my family physician’s judgment that my problems with balance and walking could be early signs of Parkinson’s disease. That’s exactly what they were. I joined one million other Americans living with this illness.

My symptoms, although mild and so far manageable, are nonetheless evident.

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ECT Saved My Life

It was July, and the weather outside my window was sunny—but inside, it was a different story.

At the beginning of the summer I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I myself thought that I suffered from major depressive disorder.

I felt as though I were sinking into a black hole. My medications didn’t seem to be working, and my psychiatrist was out of the country for the summer.

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My Family’s Chronic Illness

Mother’s Day, 2020. My daughter Skyler was sitting on the tall stool at the kitchen counter, her long hair in a messy bun that she’d pulled apart as she was thinking. For months, she’d been searching for financial support to attend university in the fall. It was the deadline for a scholarship offered by the drug company Vertex to family members of patients who have cystic fibrosis (CF).

Patients like me.

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A Doctor’s Visit

My new doctor enters the examining room where I have been waiting for him, seated on a rumpled paper sheet at the edge of a brown leather lounge chair. Behind the doctor’s blue mask, he is wearing a furrowed brow of worry.

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OCD: What It Takes and What It Gives

It started because of the news, or because the heat made me sweat, or because of neurotransmitters. Or my environment. Or nothing at all.

California was in a drought (as now), and in college I started to worry.

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At Three O’Clock

Running to make my Tuesday biopsy appointment, I tripped, landing viciously on my hands and knees at the corner of Madison Avenue and 79th. Embarrassed, I was helped up by a gray-haired lady in her eighties. For an instant, I wondered if I’d get to be her age.

Walking into the clinic, I saw my husband, who’d insisted on meeting me there. My beige pants were slightly ripped and bloodstained, my knees tingling and smarting.

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COVID Birdsong

Once I spent days, which became weeks, which become months, by myself in a small house in the village of Oshikango, Namibia. Two years prior, I had arrived there as a newly minted college graduate, eager to begin my new NGO job of teaching high-school science and HIV education.

It didn’t take long for the bubble of confident competence to burst.

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Another Kind of Healing

Editor’s Note: In the midst of last summer’s COVID pandemic, medical student Jordan Berka interviewed patients at a Bronx family health center, collecting personal stories from its diverse community. Today’s issue of Pulse is the product of one such interview. Rev. Rocke’s words are her own, approved by her for publication.

My name is Reverend Hyacinth Rocke, and I reside in the Bronx. I was born in Barbados. My husband died a little while ago,

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Easy Listening

“I’m really sorry,” the audiologist said. From her expression, I could see that she meant it.

It was the winter of 2012, when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were about to become their parties’ nominees for president, and the case that would legalize same-sex marriage was on its way to the Supreme Court.

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Living on the Edge

“How are you adapting to your diagnosis?” the specialist asked. “What changes have you made in your daily life?”

“I take the phone with me to the barn,” I told her. “That way if I need help I can call.”

She looked at me gently, as one might regard a confused child. Even then, I didn’t expect the heavy blade of her answer:

“There wouldn’t be time.”

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