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Everyone Has a Story

As I’ve learned in my three years as a medical student, medicine teaches us to place one another in cardboard boxes with worn-out, silver duct-tape labels: “Difficult” patients, tolerable colleagues, children working as family translators, nurses balancing too many beds, the old man who just needs someone to talk to. Like everyone else, I’ve gotten comfortable interacting within the boundaries of these boxes. It’s easier. It’s safer.

And then came Shirley.

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Black and White

Joe, a young Black man, has fire in his eyes as he storms down the apartment building’s front steps and into the night. It’s around 10:00 pm, and you can tell he means business as he heads across the parking lot toward a group of rough-looking white guys who are drinking beer and playing loud music.

I’m on the front porch talking with the minister as we wait for the funeral home to arrive to

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“The Worst Mistake of My Life”

Before stepping into Jasmin’s room, I slathered my hands with cold Purell and began the mundane ritual of donning my PPE. The smell of alcohol filled my nostrils as I grabbed a gown and the paper bag containing my N-95 mask and face shield. Like a seasoned soldier preparing for battle, I put on my gear with ease. With my gloves glued to my skin by sanitizer, I rapped on Jasmin’s door, asking permission to

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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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Snared by Skin

 

Of all the hues of prejudice that the disparities in skin tone might paint upon the psyche, the one that strikes as the most glaring is often the one that gets smudged and then smeared over; a recent glaze upon a remnant stain, as seemingly seamless their strokes may merge. 

Mr. B’s diabetes flouted conventional therapy with a flourish, or so it seemed until I crosschecked with his pharmacist. He had refilled not

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Compassionate Anesthesia

 
The anesthesiologist walked in with a virtual reality headset–clearly intent on distancing himself from the scene at hand–and, while ambling around the foot of the operating table, chuckled to the rest of us what a nice he would have of the waves in Hawaii.

“We should have let him die,” he said. “It would have saved us time and money.”

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Supermarket Encounter

I was in a large supermarket in the late afternoon. At the busy cheese counter, I took a number and stood waiting in the large crowd. When my number was called, I pushed through the customers to the counter and gave my order. After I’d finished, I took a half-step backward and collided with someone.

As I turned around to apologize, I found myself facing a young woman who towered over me. I

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“Better to Ask a Question Than to Remain Ignorant”

Any class of first-year medical students contains a mix of genders, races, socioeconomic ranges, ages and cultures. We try to convince students their tutor groups are safe places to ask questions and the only bad question is one that isn’t asked. Sometimes that openness leads to challenges. 
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A Shared Language


I was waiting on a friend who had injured her arm. They entered later and huddled in the seats nearby, murmuring in hushed Korean and peering at the English signs.
Feverish and weak, the mother clutched her stomach while her husband stroked her arm. You could tell the son was anxious by the way he kept tugging at his father’s wrist to check his watch, the way he paced in little circles

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The Color of Tears

“Hey Doctor Curly!”

“Hey Hungry Hippo!”

“You still haven’t gotten a haircut? Have you had one since your Bar Mitzvah?! What nice Jewish girl’s gonna go on a date with you with your hair that long?!”

“Been working long hours in the hospital, Linda. Haven’t had a chance yet–I will! How are you feeling? Are the steroids still helping your appetite?”

“Ooohh weee, don’t you know it! I’m eatin’ everything in sight! Now tell

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Witness

 
I am the product of a couple hundred years of Western European immigration to the northeastern United States. My parents were left-leaning but square churchgoers who were inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., in particular. My father began a career as a Methodist minister. However, being a rather cerebral introvert, he soon realized the ministry suited him poorly. When he left the profession suddenly, we landed in

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Black, Blue, Green and White

My life and experiences have been defined by contrasts. I am a physician and a military officer. Yet, in my presence and out of ear shot, I have been called such names as Nigger, Oreo, Tutsoon and Spear Chucker.

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