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Christmas Gifts For My Medical Colleagues

This is my column in December’s Emergency Medicine News:

I like to think back on favorite Christmas gifts I have received down the years. I don’t think I can do any better than the children of mine who were born around Christmas. Three of the four came within one month of Christmas day. One came on December 23rd. What wonderful presents!

Going farther back, I recall sitting by the Christmas tree at my childhood home, or the homes of my grandparents. I found toy soldiers, toy horses, Matchbox cars, pocket knives and many other little-boy wonders. I remember the beautiful wooden stock and golden trigger of my first shotgun, and how it pulled me irresistably into a sense of impending manhood to know that my father and mother trusted me enough to give such a gift.

I have been thrilled to give gifts to my wife and children down the years. I smile when I consider stuffed animals, American Girl dolls, Polly Pockets, toy knights, castles, iPods, bicycles, books, a small harp, and a shiny sword. I admit that I love putting their packages under the tree.

I enjoy hearing about the things my loved ones love. It is my delight to know their hearts and to go and find the perfect thing that, when opened, will make their eyes light up and give them delight.

But there are people other than my family, and there are many kinds of gifts. I can’t help but think that if I were giving the perfect gift to my patients, some would love to open a gold-embossed Oxycontin prescription with the “infinity” emblem under “number of refills.” And others would be speechless to dump out their stocking and find their disability paperwork completed. The tears of joy would flow! Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

The Practice Of Medicine: When A Funeral Provides Perspective

Here’s my column in this month’s Emergency Medicine News:

I have practiced with the same group, in the same hospital, for 17 years. Because we have been together so long, our group is a family. So it was with enormous grief that we buried our founder, Dr. Jack Warren, 11 years ago after a tragic car crash. That wound is still open, but we still tell stories about his humor, his compassion, and his grace.

As I write this I am tending another wound, or I should say our group is tending another. A second partner passed away last week. Unlike the sudden horror of the first death, the second was progressive, as our friend and partner, Dr. Howard Leslie, left us by degrees, the victim of metastatic melanoma. Jack and Howard founded our group before any of the rest of us arrived. Both of them are buried in the same wooded, hillside nature preserve. Pieces of our group, pieces of ourselves, interred in the red-clay earth. Just as they practiced before the rest of us, so they went to sleep before the rest of us. I think they’ve gone ahead to show the way. So they can one day help us adapt to peace the way they helped us adapt to practice.

But both deaths remind me of partnership. Medicine today is chaotic and difficult for many reasons. Part of the problem is that government and regulatory bodies overwhelm us and litigation threatens us. Part of the problem is that we, and our patients alike, have untenable hopes and impossible standards for the practice of medicine. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

A Little Old Lady’s Power In The ER

Here’s my column in the August edition of Emergency Medicine News. A person who seems powerless may hold an entire emergency room hostage!

Magic Words: ‘I Have Chest Pain’

Propped in her bed, frail and weak, the little grandma sighed. Her complaints were legion: weakness, poor appetite, poor sleep, joint pain, cough, dry mouth. Her daughter, eyes rolling, was trying to balance three reasonable emotions. She desperately wanted to go home and rest after spending the day in the ER. She truly wanted to avoid her mother’s admission to the hospital, and she was, graciously, sympathetic to the physician who brought the bad news.

‘Mrs. Adkins, I know you feel poorly, and I’m sorry. But I have to say, I can’t find any reason to admit you to the hospital. You’re right as rain. Isn’t that great?’

‘You mean, I’ve been here all this time, and had a gallon of blood drawn, and all them x-rays and a CAT scan, and there ain’t nothing wrong? I can’t believe that. I feel terrible.’ When she said the word terrible, she smacked her lips and looked away. She propped her hands on her lap and intertwined them; and she managed a subtle, but expressive, sniffle. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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