© 2021 Pulse - Voices from the Heart of Medicine, Inc. All rights reserved.
I can’t stop thinking about you.
Last night, at about midnight, the phone aroused me from my happy slumber. It was Vance, the on-call resident, needing advice from me, as the supervising physician, on how to help a worried mother—you—who’d called our family health center’s after-hours service about your daughter’s worsening asthma.
It was March 2020, and COVID was coming. The virus hadn’t yet reached my small suburban community in Pennsylvania, but already businesses were waning, streets were emptying, clinics were closing. Fear was widespread.
A collective refrain sounded: “Shut it down”—the university, the restaurants and, most of all, the public schools.
The door opens, we pause again.
Voices singing in the lobby drown out
her parents and the specialists alike.
I think they added bells this year,
the cheerful carols carefully chosen
to celebrate the season, not a faith.
A guitar picks up a riff, the same
one my daughter played so long ago
in her one embarrassed solo
on the school stage. A song both
Evelyn Lai ~
I walk into your room in the pediatric intensive-care unit as two nurses are repositioning you. Your parents stand nearby–your dad in his frayed baseball cap and khaki cargo shorts; your mom, her baggy jeans wrinkled with the same worry as the lines near her eyes. Your little sister sits near the window with a blue hospital mask over her mouth, hugging her knees; Grandma sits snug beside her, back
A man a few feet ahead of me
is pulling a rolling carry-on,
a clear plastic “belongings” bag tied
to the top by a white drawstring.
I can’t resist a glance in the bag,
like a stranger who wonders about lives
in the elevator or grocery line.
It holds some clothes, playing cards,
the ordinary things. And lying on its side
You are an angel, undeserving of such tortuous demise.
I bit my tongue to hold back these words I was thinking but couldn’t say to our young, male patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The attending physician had just exclaimed, “Foot drop is often one of the first signs of ALS. Do you notice here the distal muscle atrophy, including the intrinsic muscles of the hand, namely the dorsal interosseus muscles and
I’m a pediatrician, and the aftermath is when my capable medical assistant or nurse goes in after me to give a vaccine or
Marc D. Wager
When I was in medical school, more than thirty years ago, I felt I received pretty good training on how to communicate clearly and effectively with patients and families. I even remember the name of the fictitious character we had to practice telling about his wife’s demise: “Mr. Gottrocks, I’m afraid that your wife has taken a turn for the worse; I think you should come to the ICU right now.”
About the artist:
Cathleen Mahan is a contemporary visual artist and a former critical-care nurse. She maintains an active studio practice in Portland, Maine. “Putting pencil to paper or hands to clay is, for me, a doorway into a nonverbal world outside of time that offers