“You Had To Be There …” Caring for a Patient to the End of Her Life

By David C. Leach

It has been more than thirty years since she first came to see me – a vital woman in her early seventies who had detected a lump in her breast on a self-exam. A diagnostic work up confirmed cancer and the smallish lesion was removed. It never recurred. By the time a second lump appeared in the other breast we had come to know each other. She was now in her late seventies and this lump also proved to be cancer. It was removed. Postoperatively in the hospital she looked a bit depressed.

She was not an alcoholic, however, she had told me that she enjoyed an occasional martini before dinner. I did something I had never done before and have never done since. I brought a Waterford crystal glass containing a nicely mixed martini to her hospital room. She accepted it without comment. We talked while she sipped. She told me that she had discovered and joined the Hemlock Society. In her words: “Dr. Leach, I know that given your lily white ethics you would never countenance euthanasia so I joined the Hemlock Society. I now know what to do and you needn’t trouble yourself.” I thanked her for her consideration and we talked briefly about her concerns and choices. In my opinion she was not at risk for suicide. She knew that this lesion also was small and with negative nodes would likely not recur. What she wanted was to be empowered to make her own life decisions. I assured her that she was. . .

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Growing Up with Doctors: A Mother’s Reflection on Physicians, Healthcare Teams, and a Lifetime with Spina Bifida

By Marsha Miller

Almost ten years ago, I wrote a story about my experience navigating the healthcare system as a young woman with a myelomeningocele baby.  It was a story about “forgiveness” because my baby was two-months old before his back was closed, his brain shunted, and his prolapsed rectum repaired. It was a system failure.  Now, I would like to talk about how different medical encounters can be when a person with a disability is an adult rather than a pediatric patient…
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“Seeing” the Doctor: Depicting the Physician’s Self-Identity

By Stacey McClintick

What do you what to be when you grow up?  Do I even have to?  Can I cry now?  Can I show who I am?  I can only hope you will understand and be able to take away from me all that I have… because that is what I want to give.

I am not who you think I am.  Strong on the outside… an unstoppable ramble of insecurity,  Inquisitiveness and love on the inside.  I am a mom, a Maine, a wife, a soldier, a sister, an engineer, a daughter, a student doctor, a neighbor, a college student, a carpool mom, an artist… my own self gets lost behind all these things.

I lost “rank” to save my kids and my husband, but out of curiosity and hope for challenges and to experience life, I have gained so much more.  But it hurts sometimes to not be recognized in my current position for the experiences I have had.

At the same time it is hard to focus on the facts in medicine when the very curiosity of life which pulled me in persistently tries to pull me away.  ADHD?  Maybe… I have never given up… is that my downfall?

Here, regardless, I can be what I am.  In art my mistakes open up an opportunity for something wonderful I had never thought of before.  In life/medicine my mistakes are lives… more studying and more stress.

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do for my mask, and even now I would need two, ten, or even forty more sessions to have my mask relay everything I wanted it to say. However, I understand that this was not the entire point of this exercise and that the goal was to find another way to work through the stress and in that, I was successful! (I only wish I could cash in its value more often)…
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The Aftergift

“… and maybe then you’ll hear the words I’ve been singing;
Funny, when you’re dead how people start listen’n…”
If I Die Young (2010), The Band Perry

By Michael Dauzvardis

It was in the fall of 2015 that I received a call from a Mrs. Jones.  She went on to detail how her husband, Robert, had died from cancer and donated his body to our anatomy lab in 2006.  She further explained that she and her children had finally come to terms with his passing and now, 9 years later, were finally ready to spread his ashes at the family cemetery plot.  She stated that she wanted to hold a ceremony and perhaps have the students that worked on her husband write something about their experience that could be read at the service…
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After the Loss of a Patient: Reflection and Connection Through Prose

By Hedy S. Wald

Lean machine of prose, stripped down to the essence, and a power-packed way to care for the caregiver… this was my experience of the 55-word story genre1 at a writing seminar. While I had some experience writing haiku, I was generally accustomed to reflective narratives3 as “story” so was nothing short of surprised when a compact 55-word prose “small jewel”2 about a patient who touched my heart and soul spontaneously emerged onto the paper.  It chilled me to the bone and warmed my heart. I was asked to read it aloud for the attendees – the hush afterward was a moment of sacred silence…
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Anatomy from the Inside: An Anatomist’s Experience as Patient

By Robert Frysztak

Many stories have been written by physicians describing their personal experiences as a patient. But I cannot recall reading a similar perspective from a research scientist or medical educator, one who has intimate knowledge of anatomy and physiology paralleling or exceeding that of most physicians.  I would like to share with you my personal story of my recent encounter with the medical community.

I was diagnosed 18 months ago with a medical condition that, initially, was thought to be relatively common. My family physician referred me to a specialist that started me on the standard conservative approach of a prescription medication.  After 6 months of trying the various medications available with no sign of improvement, the scientist in me began asking questions.  I wondered how long a normal patient would continue to follow along with their doctor’s recommendations if they were not having success.  I explored all the medical research I could find on my condition.  I reached out to colleagues here at the medical school, and even spoke to students and residents who were working with other doctors in the field.  At this point, I decided to change doctors.  My new physician really listened to me, looked at my research, and together we decided to try a new treatment regimen.  This type of collaboration is probably rare, with most patients accepting both the doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan without question…

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Lessons Learned from a Beatbox Heart

By Tim Lahey

Two days ago, Jimmy stuck a used needle into the soft skin of his forearm, and released 20 milligrams of black tar heroin and a bolus of bacteria into his blood.

The bacteria floated from vein to artery as he nodded, eventually sticking themselves to the ragged edge of his aortic valve.  There they multiplied and burrowed until each systole whipped a two-centimeters of snot back and forth in his atrium.

Fevers came first, which Jimmy ignored while buying more black tar at a rest stop on I-91.  A day later, little red stigmata appeared on the palms of his hands as plugs of snot lodged in small vessels there.

When he couldn’t breathe, Jimmy went to the ER.  My medical student and I met him there as he shook in bed.  A snarl of IV lines snaked under the covers.

Jimmy gave one-word answers to my questions, and did not open his eyes…
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