“Soul Searching” published in Pulse

Modern neuroscience continues to struggle to define the human mind by studying anatomical brain function, largely through the use of functional MRI and optogenetics. It occurred to me that dissecting the human brain was similar to peeling back the layers of an onion. When the last layer is peeled back, what remains? In particular, where does our humanness lie?

My poem “Soul Searching” is now online, newly published in Pulse—voices from the heart of medicine. more»

An open access online journal, Pulse magazine publishes personal accounts of illness and healing, fosters the humanistic practice of medicine and encourages health care advocacy.

Medicine and a declining interest in the Humanities

Ours is a gilded digital age and a visual culture; we twitter and tap the screens of our smartphones to locate the nearest theater to view the latest blockbuster thriller. As a society, we tend to engage in quantitative rather than qualitative thinking: no matter how poor the quality, more is always better. We opt to pursue economic goals rather than existential longings. more»

Interested readers can peruse my latest JAAPA Musings blog post, newly published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Humane Medicine — What’s bred in the bone

Decades ago during my early years of practice, shortly after performing rescue breathing on a pallid, limp toddler, I contracted a nasty enteritis. It ran its course over a period of 10 days. At the time, sick as I was, I remember musing to a colleague that an occasional bout of illness permitted us clinicians to better empathize with patients in their time of distress. My colleague looked at me askance, unable to muster any meaningful response. more»

Interested readers can now access my latest Humane Medicine column — Empathetic medicine: What’s bred in the bone — recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Please note that all of my previously published Humane Medicine pieces can now be accessed here.

Summer rain

“I’m going out for a walk. You want to come along?”

I look up from the stack of reading material in my lap. I’ve been working my way through it for a couple of hours—time to get some fresh air.

“Okay, I’ll go.”

I drop the journals on the floor by the desk and descend the stairway to get my hat. My wife is already outside on the back porch, easing into her new walking shoes.

“Take the dog,” she says. “She hasn’t been out since this morning.”

I snap the leash on our rough coat  Jack Russell and grab a plastic bag. We head down the driveway to the street, sidestepping the runoff from our neighbor’s newly washed car. Soon the dog is straining at the leash as we head out down the street.

It’s Saturday evening. The deck on the side of the local pub is packed with people milling about. We turn at the bottom of the hill and head for the park, passing the old Georgian brick home next to the village auto repair shop.

“I wish I could peek inside,” my wife says. She loves old houses with their high ceilings and wide windows.

“There’s where Ruth used to live,” she says, pointing to the house next door. “One day she was there and the next she was gone.”

Halfway to the park a bank of black clouds rolls in overhead. Shortly, the wind kicks up. Off to the west you could still see blue sky.

“It looks like we’re in for some weather,” I say. “Better turn around.”

No sooner do we start to retrace our steps than the rain begins to fall. Rapidly, it turns into a downpour.

“Let’s cut up through this way—it’s shorter.”

“If we run we can make the gazebo on the green—it’s closer.”

I take off on a slow trot with the dog; my wife brings up the rear. We’re wet by the time we reach the gazebo, but not soaked to the skin.

We sit on the two wide wooden benches and watch the rain descend in transparent curtains. The air has cooled considerably. In our wet clothing it’s almost chilly.

“The windows are open in the house. I’m going to make a go for home with the dog.”

“I’ll wait here until it lets up,” I say. I don’t relish the thought of getting soaked to the skin.

My wife takes off with the dog. I watch them disappear through the trees at the edge of the green, then rise to my feet and walk to the railing. I remember delivering a speech from the gazebo several years ago on such a day as this. Everyone was huddled beneath the roof: standing room only.

Soon two fellows appear on mountain bikes, zipping across the lawn. They enter the gazebo and pull off their helmets.

“You fellows got caught in the rain.”

“We were up on the ridge when it hit. Not much you can do other than push through it.”

“How far did you go?”

“Out along the ridge to the power lines at Spoonville and back—nearly two hours.”

“That’s a good ride.”

“We’ve done all the local ridges this summer,” they tell me.

“I never did much mountain biking. For a while I took up road biking until that got too dangerous.”

“Yeah, the cars will clip you if you don’t watch out.”

“I’ve known two bikers who fell and broke their arms; a third who fractured his tibial plateau and ribs.”

“Did they get hit?”

“One fellow got clipped. The others skidded and fell on gravel.”

“Road biking’s not for me,” the bearded fellow says. “I don’t trust cars. At least when you’re up on the trail, the only things you’ve got to watch out for—like branches and rocks—are stationary. If you keep an eye out, you do fine.”

The rain starts to let up. They don their helmets, buckle on their shin protectors and head out across the lawn. I watch them go, glad that I am on foot.

I step out into the gentle rain and amble up the glistening street. My wife is sitting on the front porch with the dog at her side and a cup of coffee resting in her lap.

“You wet?” she asks.

“Barely,” I grin. “I don’t remember the last time I got caught in a summer rain.”

Author to address Quinnipiac PA program class of 2013

Brian T. Maurer has been invited to address the graduating class of the Quinnipiac Physician Assistant program at nine o’clock in the morning on Monday, August 5, 2013.

He will speak to the new graduates on “Something of Value: The Art of Medicine.” Maurer’s presentation will include insights from his 34 years of practice in pediatric medicine, crafted in his book, Patients Are a Virtue.

“We learn the practice of medicine through the complex process of integrating knowledge and skills with wisdom and insight in our interaction with the patient. Although the medical record forms a composite history of the patient’s illness; for the clinician, it may be the illness narrative that ultimately imparts some degree of healing to both practitioner and patient alike.”

“You have learned the science of medicine; you have delved into its business. Now it is time to recall the art of its practice, for it is only in the practice of the art of medicine that you will sustain yourselves from day-to-day over the span of your professional careers.”

“Notes from a Healer” — An Unhappy Triad

Behind the boy’s name on the schedule a note is appended: “follow up ER visit.”  No additional information is given.

I recognize the boy’s name.  He is the only son in a family of five children. Like most Egyptian boys, he reveres professional soccer.  He’s actually a good player himself, adept at maneuvering the ball down the field and drilling the goal. more»

My latest installment of Notes from a HealerAn Unhappy Triad — is now online, newly published in the Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine.

The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine is an online journal fostering discussion about the culture of medicine, medical care, and experiences of illness. Interested readers can access a list of editorial board members and regular contributors here.