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

Casseroles and Conversations

2017 was a heartbreaking year for our family.
To start things off, my wife’s parents–both of them!–were diagnosed with terminal illnesses. We spent the next few months immersed in the painful, complex process of transitioning them to home hospice care and beginning to face and grieve the prospect of their deaths.
In the midst of this, Hurricane Harvey began heading towards Houston, our hometown. My wife, Marsha, drove to her parents’

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My Black Bag

Retirement means downsizing. “If a thing doesn’t give you joy, throw it away,” says the current mantra, as if it were that simple.
In my study closet, behind my obsolete Kodachrome lecture slides (about as necessary these days as a harpsichord), sits my little black bag. Does it give me joy? It’s much more complicated than that.
The bag holds all the medical instruments I carried through my training as a

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Finding the Words

“So how was your trip?” ask well-meaning friends and coworkers when I return from a medical mission to Engeye Health Clinic, in rural Uganda. Even years after my first trip there, trying to find the perfect words to describe it is a challenge.
I have been involved with Engeye since its founding, more than a decade ago. As the administrative coordinator with Albany Medical College’s department of family and community medicine,

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X Factor

I was a brand-new intern on the intensive-care unit, and Cassandra was the very first patient I saw there. A petite, slender woman, she was rolled in on a stretcher, accompanied by her tall, athletic husband, Jack.
Cassandra was in her twenties, like me–but mortally ill. That grabbed my attention from the start. But the biggest lesson she taught me came about because we got her prognosis all wrong.
She had

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Prayers of Passage

The day began in Mom’s room with a 10:00 am conference at Upper Valley Medical Center, west of Columbus, Ohio. In attendance were my ninety-three-year-old mother Joanne (now in her third week of hospitalization), her palliative-care nurse Richard, her Episcopal priest Mother Nancy and myself.

Mom was on high-flow oxygen therapy delivered through a nasal cannula. Despite this, her blood-oxygen levels were well below normal.

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Keeping the Flame Alive

This month, at medical schools across the country, first-year students will officially don the physician’s traditional white coat for the first time.

The white-coat ceremony is a powerful symbolic moment. It signifies that the students are moving beyond their identity as ordinary citizens and into their new identity as healers. The ceremony celebrates their idealism and their commitment to a life of caring for others.

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Shock Treatment

I sat in the cold, sterile examination room, anxiously awaiting my new orthopedic doctor–the fourth in two months. I was losing hope of ever finding a doctor who would listen to me. The first three had suggested that my pain was all in my head
I want someone to take me seriously, I brooded. I don’t want to be brushed off as the stereotypical hysterical female. My pain is real, and

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Shock of Recognition

Lying in a hospital bed while awaiting heart surgery, I looked at my teen daughter and my parents, then smugly pointed out the irregular slashes on the cardiac monitor.

“See these?” I said. “They’re called PVCs. My doctor is going to fix them. Make them all go away.”

The asymmetrical rhythm, a frequent and annoying pattern of multiple skipped heartbeats, had plagued me for the

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First Time, Last Time

“Deeper compressions! Deeper! Make sure you get that recoil!”

I push harder and lift off higher. I’m starting to sweat. My stethoscope is banging around my neck. I should have taken it off, I think. My hair is flying around my face. I should have tied it up. I’m on tiptoe; my legs are cramping. I should have stood on a step stool.

“All right,

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