In neurology clinic, I was asked to see a young man with epilepsy -- a seizure disorder -- due to cerebral palsy from birth. It was one of my first clinical encounters of my first rotation of medical school, the tenuous transition from knowledge-absorber to translator and caretaker. I walked in to find a patient who was wheelchair-bound and largely non-verbal, and who interacted with the world by tracking gaze ...

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On my medicine sub-internship, I took care of an elderly man who was a retired military surgeon. When he first came into the hospital, mentally altered from an underlying infection, he was irascible and unpleasant towards many staff members, swatting their hands away as they attempted to draw blood for lab tests. As the infection came under control, the shell of rage fell away to a quiet dissatisfaction. The bed was ...

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shutterstock_262498211 As my third year of clinical rotations comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on the ways in which I use my training as an anthropologist on the wards. One patient comes to mind, a recent immigrant from South Asia who came into the hospital after an accident where he was bicycling and got hit by a car. He was scanned from ...

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A hospital can be full of discomfort. My patients tell me that the food is unappetizing. The beds hurt their backs. The noise echoing through the hallways at night makes it impossible to sleep. And for those patients near the end of life, the treatments being offered may no longer be of benefit, causing more pain than good. The answer to discomfort for those who are very ill is comfort care, ...

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In India, when the first heavy droplets of rain meet dry earth it releases a particular kind of smell: a dampness arising from sizzling soil that in Bengal we call shnoda gondho. It is raining on the second day we go to visit my grandfather in the hospital. He has been readmitted to the hospital, after spending a week recovering at home from a hospitalization for rib fractures and bleeding into his ...

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Watching my first below-the-knee amputation on my surgery rotation, I felt a curious mix of revulsion and detachment. The woman on the operating table had a gangrenous infection that had spread across her foot. Her long history of smoking and her delay in seeking medical care meant that she had stiff, black toes by the time a surgeon first saw her. The only treatment was amputation. In the operating room, the ...

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