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The Waiting Room

What happened to the fish
I ask the receptionist

The plastic seaweed was toxic
She replies with a shrug

So we sit and wait watching
A string of jeweled bubbles rise

To the surface
In the otherwise empty tank

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Finding Freedom in Difference

Editor’s Note: This piece was awarded third place in the Pulse writing contest, “On Being Different.”

It was 3:00 am on my third night shift out of five, in a busy inner-city hospital in Sydney.

Having just reviewed six suicidal patients back to back, I felt tired and frustrated.

If I have to see another suicidal patient tonight…Why don’t they go and be suicidal somewhere else? I wondered wearily, then felt ashamed at the adversarial

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The Black Dog

It was a particularly sunny morning, and golden light streamed through the clinic windows. Seated in my preceptor’s office, I scanned her list of patients for the day. As a first-year medical student, I was to do preliminary interviews with some, and I hoped to find a few cases that would offer a chance to test my diagnostic reasoning.

The list held a lot of the usual–medication follow-ups, annual physicals, well-child checks—plus Ernest, a seventy-eight-year-old man who’d come into the

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Due Date

It’s the bright orange color that catches my eye. Nestled in a box under my home office desk, alongside unused breast pads and pumping supplies left over from the birth of my first daughter.

My first, because there should have been a second. A girl.

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Time Splintered

Time fractured when my first husband died.

There was a before, which no longer existed, and an after, which was unimaginable.

In between, the thinnest–unfathomably thin–line, was the today. The today meant putting one foot in front of the other. One today led to the next today. And finally the year was over.

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I find him sitting
in the midst of his fellow residents
in the dining room
that doubles as an activity space.

His eyes are fixed
on the TV screen
that has a photo

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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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Mind Boggling

“Eleven years ago, I wasn’t as old as I am now—which is a funny thing!” Virginia Mitchell tells me.

She’s dressed as if she picked her clothes using yellow Benjamin Moore paint samples: bright canary shirt, mustard pants, daffodil leather shoes. Last week’s theme was purple, topped off with a violet scarf; another time it was green, accented with a chartreuse ascot.

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The Things We Carry

It has been said that we in health care carry a backpack of sorrows.

There is a sanctity to being on the inside, trusted to care for people in their weakest, darkest and most vulnerable moments. When it feels like control is gone, we steady our voices even when we too feel scared.

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Even Now

Two decades ago, during my first week
as an X-ray tech, I watched a boy die.
He was, thankfully, not a boy I knew
or loved but one I’d gone to X-ray.

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It’s 8:00 pm.

I’m staring at the IV tubing. We forgot to stop the fluids.

I’m standing in the resuscitation room alongside the naked, broken body of a teenage male. Unable to break my gaze on that dripping IV line, thinking, We’re going to flood him.

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Things My Wife Left in the ICU

A pacemaker and defibrillator

Sheets pressed hard with suffering

Seven fingers and one arm, gangrenous dead

Unknown liters of blood

Failed kidneys

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