Death is on our floor. It has been there for far longer than I have. On my first day in the cardiac surgery ICU, I was running late. I hurried past the dimly-lit rooms, their monitors regularly chiming their final lullabies of the night before the receptionist brightly greets the morning shift nurses and flips on all the fluorescent lights outside the twenty rooms on this floor at 7:00 a.m. sharp. There ...

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A recent sports injury required me to have surgery. As a cardiothoracic surgeon, my experience as "the patient" reminded me of lessons-learned years ago on finding one’s purpose. You should never underestimate your capacity as a health care professional to dramatically impact the lives of your patients. As a pre-med in college, I interviewed at Johns Hopkins Medical School under an early decision program. I was beyond excited. After my interview, ...

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It's 2:02 p.m. when my pager beeps. I pull it out and read: "Juan may have just passed. Going in now." As a social worker in the region's only cancer specialty hospital, I provide emotional support for patients and their families — including talking about their wishes for end-of-life care. Juan is a sixty-five-year-old Ecuadorian man with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I've known him for about a year. Polite and easy to ...

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Lines are slowly being taken out of the small infant, his bruised and discolored arms continuing to ooze. Machines and circuits, one by one, are being shut up and turned off. Leads and wires are carefully taken off of the lifeless chest of the once critically ill, but alive infant. Just hours ago, physicians, nurses, and other providers were rushing in and out of the room, desperately doing everything they ...

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We physicians stand witness to countless tragedies in our careers. At some point, as we stand by the bedside of a dying patient, comfort a heartbroken relative or officially call a death. We learn that love and loss, sorrow and joy are intertwined. They depend upon each other. They are two sides of the same coin. Dealing with loss after loss, we learn to look for the beauty in all of ...

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This week I had some particularly emotionally tough cases at work, and it got me thinking about life in general and how, in spite of having a tough job, I have learned so much from it. When I think of childhood diseases, there are the ones that are chronic, the ones that let you process that your baby is sick and has a potential life-threatening condition. You have weeks and months to ...

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“This is a 17-year-old boy who came in as a category 1 trauma yesterday for a rollover MVC with bilateral uncal herniation, epidural hematoma and subdural hematoma currently intubated and sedated with propofol and fentanyl.” As the overnight resident presented this patient on PICU, we could see everyone’s early morning smiles fading slowly and beginning to understand the grave consequences anticipated in this severe traumatic brain injury. We could see the ...

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I majored in history of religion in college and have always had an interest in the places various twists and turns of theology can lead people. One relatively recent wrinkle is what has been loosely termed "prosperity gospel" or "prosperity theology." It’s built upon the basic notion good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. Of course, that’s a foundational viewpoint of much of Christianity in the ...

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At this place again. Place: Neonatal ICU. Time: 3 a.m. Location: Bedside of a sick preterm female. She is intubated and on the ventilator. Antibiotics course through her veins. Blood transfusions, IV fluids and vasopressors support her in the fight of her life. Lab tests are checked and adjustments are made to meet her needs. Her parents sit beside her isolette. They watch the monitor, silently begging the numbers to give them some sign, ...

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Monday I walk into your room in the pediatric intensive care unit as two nurses are repositioning you. Your parents stand nearby — your dad in his frayed baseball cap and khaki cargo shorts. Your mom in baggy jeans wrinkled with the same worry as the lines near her eyes. Your little sister sits near the window with a blue hospital mask over her mouth and hugging her knees. Grandma sits ...

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