August 17, 2010. Maris is a 57-year-old woman in excellent health.  She has not seen a doctor in years. Divorced, she lives by herself, but spends occasional evenings with her daughter and son-in-law.  A successful businesswoman, Maris gardens, serves on the board of a community theater and plays a mean game of bridge. It is 10:11 a.m. when Maris presents to the emergency room. Three hours earlier, her legs became wobbly while ...

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7:00 a.m. Lights on.   Coffee, black and a banana. Paperwork.  27 patient visits, 3 emergencies, 35 phone calls.  Lots of computer time. Some laughs and a few tears. Paperwork.  Last family meeting.  Coffee, black.   In between: Thursday. Was not completely successful in explaining to my frantic patient with the multi-page lab printout, how the problem was not that her tests were bad, but that the computer had used the wrong “normal” range ...

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What do eggs, roofing nails, men’s haircuts and plastic cups have in common? A bizarre fraternity ritual or my Saturday morning honey-do list?  Gasoline, copying paper and paperclips?  Shopping for a mobile accounting office?  Nope.  What these items share is that who ever makes them, wherever you buy them, they are essentially the same.  They are commodities. They do not vary significantly in construction or quality.  The only way to ...

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A baby’s smile reflects the purity in their heart.   An infant’s world is a marvelous place of possibility and love.   Children see themselves as special, capable, even omnipotent.   Time teaches failure, loss, and mortality.  How much we lose of that original perfection, that first excitement, that natural confidence, determines how we face the challenges and tragedies of life; whether we will be happy.  It may even determine how we cope ...

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I knew immediately it was a problem.  It was not just that Faith’s cancer had spread with innumerable masses in her liver, golf ball-like tumors in her lungs, punched out holes in her bones.  It was not that the chemo, third round and toxic, had failed.  Those were awful things.  Rather it was her response as I began to tell her.  As soon as I said, “I looked at the ...

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Once upon a time, I was a lifeguard.  This was the natural result of swimming fairly well, Red Cross training, and team competition.  I saw myself as a handsome, tanned guardian at the ready.  OK, I was prone to self-delusion.  When I became a doctor I carried over that image of high-perched protector on stilt chair, whistle in hand, rescue float close, ready to dive to the assistance of a ...

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I have written many columns urging doctors to be honest with their patients, especially about difficult news.  Too often patients are lead on false hope therapy rides, rather than empowered with honest information so that they can cope with their disease and future. Doctors are not the only ones who can keep a painful secret. I admitted Sarah to the hospital late on Saturday night.  For over two years, she had ...

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Kasey sits alone in the examining room, staring at the drug company calendar of a perfect Caribbean beach hanging above the doctor’s desk, but not seeing it at all. She is very frightened.  After three years of treatment for cancer, she is in trouble.   Kasey feels fine: no shortness of breath, no cough, no pain.  Still, she is there to get the report on her CT scan, and she knows ...

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When patients yell at staff, they end up hurting themselves For days, I have been trying to get long-term patient, Stan, on the phone; his blood work came back abnormal, and we need to repeat it.  I called the number in our file a bunch of times. The odd thing is that sometimes it rings without stopping, sometimes it is answered by a machine, which immediately beeps and disconnects, and at ...

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A perfect thank you note to an oncologist I got a letter the other day from a local urologist requesting clearance for a patient of mine to have surgery.  The doctor wanted to know whether there were any contraindications, from the standpoint of the patient’s cancer, such as bleeding, infection or poor wound healing, which would preclude local anesthesia, bilateral incisions, sharp separation, ligation, and electrocauterization of the vasa ...

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