"I don't just read Pulse, I adore it." --Donald Berwick MD
"There's no crying in baseball!"
Over the years, my fellow surgery residents and I heard these words shouted countless times by Dr. Norris, a cantankerous elderly surgeon with whom we had the dubious pleasure of working.
Dr. Norris was a former Navy ship surgeon. He didn't operate much anymore, but he fondly remembered the "good old days" when trainees spent days on end in the hospital. The phrase emerged whenever he felt a need to remind us that medicine was a grueling pursuit with no room for weakness, perceived or actual.
I don't know if his remark was a thinly veiled sexist jab or merely an allusion to the movie A League of Their Own, but it stopped mattering once I realized that medicine was much more than an endurance game. Nonetheless, five years later, as I pursue my work as a wound specialist in nursing homes, I sometimes still hear Dr. Norris's voice in my mind.
We ran from an outbreak of polio
Abandoned the Bronx for a summer hideaway
In the shadow of the Catskill Mountains
Each day we traipsed craggy trails
Stooped low beneath clear skies
Plucked mounds of dark blues
From bushes bursting with ripe fruit
Filled our baskets to overflow
It should have been all this:
Sunshine on eight-year-old skin
Fresh air on innocent girl soil
Thoughts of jam on toast for breakfast
Happy days of laughs with the family
When anxiety overwhelms the mind
Blueberry picking equates to worries
Of prickly thorns and bee stings
Sunburns and infected blisters
Rattlesnake bites and botulism in jelly jars
Everything, a gravediggers’ paradise
I need a new stethoscope. I have to wrap my fingers around the fissures in the tubing to make this one work.
For me, these days, listening to the patient's chest is more a ritual than a means of diagnosis. After twenty years as a primary-care internist, I now work full-time in hospice and palliative care. I spend more time listening to stories than to hearts and lungs. Even so, there's something about leaning over and finding the right spot on the chest that makes me feel like a real doctor and helps my patients know that they're being cared for.
Every morning I put this stethoscope around my neck and walk down the hall of our inpatient hospice unit, and every morning, I forget until I touch the first patient. I wonder about the silence in my ears, and then I remember and close my fingers over the stiff, unresponsive black tubing.
a treasury of compelling stories and poems.
Includes The Resilient Heart , Babel: The Voices of a Medical Trauma and Confessions of a Seventy-Five-Year-Old Drug Addict. Foreword by Maureen Bisognano, President of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
Click to read more or to purchase.