fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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The VIP

It was late at night, and as the neurosurgery resident on call, I was alone in the hospital, wishing that I could lie down, or even just slow down, in the midst of a busy shift.

I sat for a moment, awaiting the inevitable next phone call or text. Predictably, my phone rang within minutes. It was the trauma-team resident.

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Disposable

As a third-year medical student, I was two weeks into my trauma-surgery rotation when my resident casually called me “disposable.” I wasn’t offended—in fact, the word perfectly described how I’d been feeling. I also understood that it was no reflection on my performance; rather, it was a commentary on medical students in general.

Surgery was the first rotation of my third year—and, now that the COVID pandemic was winding down, it was also my first

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Neuro Consult No. 2

we enter
there is
one emaciated body, encased in ivory blankets
and
one clear-walled plastic bag
hanging from the edge of the bed, ominously filled with red liquid
i feel my stomach churn

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Letter to Myself as a Third-Year Medical Student

At most medical schools, the first two years are spent in lectures, labs and classroom learning. The third year is when students begin rotating on various clinical teams in the hospital and clinics, finally seeing patients as part of a large educational medical team. As I moved through pediatrics, ob/gyn, surgery and other core rotations during my third year, I took notes at the times when I felt out of place or discouraged.

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Us and Them

I am a second-year medical student—an older medical student, married, with a five-year-old boy and a baby. In medical school, people like me are called nontraditional—a euphemism for peculiar, different.

Today a group of my classmates and I have gathered, wearing our white coats, at a basketball court in Barrio Bélgica, in the south of Puerto Rico, where I’m completing my first two years of medical school. We’re here to visit with some of the

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The Role of a Lifetime

In our first week of neonatology, my third-year classmates Jay, Em and I donned PPE and filed like ducklings into an operating room on the birthing unit.

A young woman sat slouched on the operating table, her unbuttoned hospital gown revealing the S-curve in her spine. Her name, we learned, was Elise.

Beside her stood the anesthesiologist, Dr. Lane. He put a hand on her shoulder.

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A Heart to Heart

One unusually wintery April morning, when I was fifteen, my maternal grandfather (“Nanabhai” to me) passed away.

The phone call came before my sister and I left for school. My father solemnly handed the phone to my mother, who’d been expecting the call, but not this soon. From my seat at the kitchen counter, I watched her expression morph from shock to disbelief to grief. Without hearing a word, I knew what had happened.

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The Last Gandy Dancer

After I retired, my wife and I moved, giving me a reason to go through my old files. I found the notes from this story scribbled on some scrap paper that used to be everywhere in our offices. “Keep good notes,” someone once advised me. These are good notes and a good story.

Thirty-five years ago I was on the faculty at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and spent a lot of

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Colored Darkness

“You know how empowering it was for me to walk out into the ocean without my shirt on?” asked my twenty-four-year-old cousin Neil after we’d returned from a day of swimming and sunning at the beach.

For me, it had been a rare and welcome break from my coursework in medical school, where I had just started my fourth year.

It was the first time I had worn a bikini in public after years of veiling myself in shirts and

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Treating a Messiah

It was my very first day of psychiatry rotation in my family-medicine residency at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

This rotation took place at the old Ben Taub Hospital with its unmistakable odor–a combination of drugs, detergents, illness and death. Even if I were taken there blindfolded, one sniff would tell me that I was at Ben Taub.

At any rate, having survived my first seven months of residency, I was feeling a little

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Where My Story Ends and Yours Begins

It was a Thursday morning, my first day on the medical oncology service. I hurriedly gathered my white coat and badge, the block letters “3rd Year Medical Student” unmistakable in fresh ink. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to look up at the cancer center.

This is going to be difficult, I thought.

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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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