My heart began pounding as I listened to the sound of the dial tone in my ear. After three rings a woman answered groggily and uncertainly, “H-hello?” “Mrs. Peterson?” I asked. My voice trembled slightly. It was 2 a.m., and I’d awakened her from what I imagined had been a troubled sleep. “Yes?” “This is Dr. Lickerman. I’m calling from the hospital.” I paused. “I’m calling about your husband.” There was silence. Then a breathless, “Yes?” “Mrs. Peterson, ...

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When I was ten I once found myself walking with my brother on a Lake Michigan beach when we came upon a half-empty bottle of beer. Curious, I picked it up and looked inside at the swirling dark liquid. Then, impulsively, I took a sip. It was hot, having baked in the sun for who knows how many hours or days, and tasted awful. I never took another drink of alcohol ...

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According to Nichiren Buddhism, the reason we’re all here is to enjoy ourselves, to be “happy and at ease.” Though this may sound like a license for lasciviousness and hedonism, in reality it’s far from it: enjoying ourselves, as most of us know from experience, is far harder than it sounds. To develop lives in which we can freely enjoy each moment requires far more work—far more self-development—than many would ...

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I vividly remember the first day my medical school classmates and I met our cadavers in the anatomy lab. Large body bags lay on metal tables that had been bolted to the floor. I remember the sheer size of the bags best. No doubt existed in my mind that dead human bodies indeed lay within them. And yet part of me couldn’t quite grasp that I was actually going to ...

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We can’t, of course, plan the way we’re going to die (with the obvious exception of suicide). We can, however, live in such a way that reduces the likelihood of our dying from certain diseases. Which is why it’s now almost universally accepted that we should exercise regularly, not smoke, drink only in moderation (if at all), avoid too much fat in our diet (and now probably too much carbohydrate), ...

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I once had a patient in whom I found a small breast lump. She was only thirty-two, and the lump was soft, non-tender, and mobile. But it was new. She examined her breasts monthly and was certain that she hadn’t felt it the month before. And she had a family history of breast cancer. So, I asked myself, what to do? Her age—as well as the lump’s characteristics on exam—made the ...

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Student loan debt is at an all-time high at a little over 1 trillion dollars, a figure that now, for the first time ever, exceeds our nation’s credit card debt. Higher education has never cost more, the rate of rise of college tuition having exceeded in recent years the rate of rise of many other services. Perhaps as a result of this, as well as of the difficulty in obtaining ...

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The notion that dying is a right seems nonsensical to argue:  death is given to all of us equally without the need of anyone’s sanction.  The right to die well, on the other hand—well, that’s another matter entirely.  A good death is, in many cases, something our fellow human beings have great power to grant or deny, and is therefore, sadly, a right for which we must indeed fight. The ...

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I had a patient once—a fellow physician—who came to see me complaining of mid-back pain.  When I examined him, I found I could reproduce his pain by pressing firmly on the spot he said was hurting him.  He said pressing there also made the pain radiate around to his stomach, a phenomenon known as “referred pain” that meant his pain was almost certainly caused by a trigger point.  I ...

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I had a patient once who wanted an exercise stress test even though he had neither symptoms nor risk factors to suggest the presence of coronary artery disease (such as chest pain with exertion).  I argued vociferously against it.  However, extenuating circumstances (not relevant here) prompted our mutual decision to go ahead with it anyway.  To our surprise and dismay, it came ...

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