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The Miracle In Front Of You

Raymond Barfield On Practicing Medicine With Compassion

You have to notice beauty when it appears. That means you have to show up and shut up. If I could give just one piece of advice to all medical students, I would say, “Show up completely, and then shut up for at least two minutes while the miracle in front of you tells you who they are and how you can help them.” If every doctor did just that one thing, it would change medicine.

Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

This Will Sting And Burn

It is time for him to mark the spot that he will cut out. I turn around in the chair, and the starched edge of his white coat brushes my naked shoulder as he moves behind me. I can smell the magic marker and feel the cold circle he draws on my back. He asks if anybody is here with me, and I say no. I know what he’s thinking: that he won’t have to come out and talk to the relatives in the waiting room after the surgery is over.

Bugs

All day I fought the HIV virus, a bug that was taking men — or mostly men — from the world, and at night I found light-brown, circular bugs on my pillow. I never crushed them; I lifted them delicately into a trash bin.

Losing John

Though we aren’t blasé about death, we are accustomed to it. We know it will happen. When a person is hospitalized, it means his or her condition could turn serious, fast. A simple case of pneumonia could result in a whole-body infection that spirals and becomes fatal. A patient receiving a new hip could develop a blood clot that clogs his lungs. A heart-failure patient could suffer an arrhythmia. But hospital deaths are rarely as terrible as John’s.

Provolone

I look at the provolone in my hand and notice that it’s not completely enclosed in its plastic wrap. An entire corner, hard and dry, peeks out. And then it hits me with a finality that nearly knocks me over: my mother and father are in trouble. It may seem odd that a faultily covered hunk of cheese would fill me with such sorrow, but that speck of inattention, that very dismissible oversight on the part of my parents, is the final, incontrovertible evidence that their time has come.

My Devils

One time when I was seven years old, my aunt placed her hands upon me and tried to drive out my devils. I was not aware that I had any resident devils and said so, hesitantly, as she was a firm woman. She said, You certainly do have devils, and they are beginning to manifest. I did not know what manifest meant but did not say so.

Fiction

Don’t Call It Vino

A man in his kitchen must exhibit dexterity with a chef’s knife. That’s essential. He should also possess a devil-may-care nonchalance around the spice rack and a cunning knowledge of various cheeses. Good, you’ve sailor-knotted your apron. That’s important. You are also wearing oven mitts. A little excessive, but she might think it’s cute. She has a sloshing glass of vino in her hand and a grin on her face. Excellent!

Readers Write

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The Dog-Eared Page

excerpted from
The Surgeon As Priest

I cannot see their hands joined in a correspondence that is exclusive, intimate, his fingertips receiving the voice of her sick body through the rhythm and throb she offers at her wrist. All at once I am envious — not of him, not of Yeshi Dhonden for his gift of beauty and holiness, but of her. I want to be held like that, touched so, received. And I know that I, who have palpated a hundred thousand pulses, have not felt a single one.

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Quotations

Sunbeams

So many come to the sickroom thinking of themselves as men of science fighting disease and not as healers with a little knowledge helping nature to get a sick man well.

Auckland Geddes

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