That first time there was a moist sweet smell, the hiss of oxygen and pictures of grandchildren on the wall. Unopened juice containers, papers, a Kindle, the phone and some plastic table wear, crowded the bedside stand. Jack was thin, tired, and the tightness of his eyes spoke of uncontrolled pain. “Oh, I know you. You took care of my wife’s friend. You’re the cancer doc.’ “Yes, that’s me, nice to meet ...

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At the wake, when the kids kept running around, disturbing the disturbed, their mother, or maybe their aunt, or maybe their neighbor, shooed them to the basement. Adult quiet and proper mourning returned. However, I noticed that Mary, eight years old, or so, stayed upstairs. For a while, I watched her, carrying food, clearing plates, even answering the front door. A petite, hard working, hostess. I wondered why. “Mary,” I said, ...

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The theater darkens; children stop laughing, adults sit forward in their chairs. Framed by a single light in the center of the stage, he stands; tuxedo, white shirt, black tie. He stares into the silent crowd, slowly turning his head, lips touched with the slightest, smallest, cruelest of smiles. His gaze fixes upon you; he is just feet away. His hand rises to the brim of his tall hat and ...

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The nightmare sickens me. A small child trusts a man to protect her, take care of her, and shield her from harm. The man, for incomprehensible and useless reasons, neglects her unto death. For me, when I think of Germanwings flight 9525, I am haunted by the photo of a single tiny girl, taken in the last days of life; the obliteration of that perfect life’s potential. Waste, tragedy, evil. In the ...

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shutterstock_233430226 Where does doctor stop and computer begin? Who is in charge? Do we care? Are these silly, academic questions from some sci-fi future or is it an onrushing tomorrow? Consider:

  • Ten years ago, the EMR recorded the date you or your nurse gave Sam his flu shot.
  • Today, the EMR reminds you it is time to have your nurse give Sam his flu shot.
  • Soon, the EMR will order the flu ...

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For 25 years, I have taught medical students how to give bad news.  Step one: Be prepared.  Step two: Find a safe, personal, quiet environment.  Step three, and this is most important: Before you speak, ask.  What do the patient and family understand? Fail to follow this vital rule and reap the whirlwind.   So, therefore, you might ask, if I have such wisdom and experience in this critical area ...

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Cancer patients depend on denial.  Without its protection, we would be overwhelmed by terror.  Denial filters and slows bad news, so we can digest reality in the merciful morsels; thus, we cope.  Without denial, we would shut down, withdraw, and lose hope; healing would not be possible.  However, if we do not move beyond denial, accept the diagnosis and loss, make a plan, we die. Allen, a 43-year-old man, came to ...

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“I had no idea how much cancer sucks.” My patient’s observation seems silly, basic.  Of course, cancer sucks.  It maims, humiliates and kills.  It takes.  What made the statement remarkable was its source.  This is not a medically naïve person, waiting to die. Rather it was spoken by a patient in complete remission, likely cured, who is an expert in cancer care.   To her amazement, it changed life forever. I think that ...

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Short-of-breath, weak, in pain.  Cancer -- aggressive, cold, unfair -- ravaged Roger’s body.  But maybe, just perhaps, there was a modern medical miracle.  A drug.  A single daily pill to attack the genetic growth switch in each malignant cell.  Only, there was a problem.  Not a big problem, really, but possibly fatal.  The kind of real life annoyance of living in a modern medical miracle society.  The co-pay cost to ...

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“So, I told the doctor at the nursing home that I loved my father more than anything. Dad was my friend and the most wonderful man I had ever known.  I wanted everything for him. But, I said, Dad was sick, weak, confused, and he never wanted to live like that. The next morning he was dead.  That was OK by me.” I once participated in a panel discussion about hospice, ...

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