On this

On this, the last day of the year,
I arose in a noche oscura,
Wandered out into the fog
And glimpsed the sharp cold light
Of the waning moon
Above the shrouded pines.

On this, the last day of the year,
I fried French toast for my wife—
Breakfast in bed—
Washed the penultimate dishes
And peeled potatoes for a
Ham-and-green-bean supper.

On this, the last day of the year,
I paused before a gnarled tree:
Red berries encased in ice;
Motionless corpuscles frozen
Along arterial branches
Of a neighbor who died
This December.

On this, the last day of the year,
I crushed a block of ice melt
And scattered the remains
Over our front frozen steps
While a small brown bird
Piped his lively call
From a bare branched tree
Across the street.

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A pearl on Pearl Harbor Day

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the Japanese aerial attack on the U.S. Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Of the 2390 U.S. servicemen and civilians who died on December 7, 1941, 1177 perished on the USS Arizona. Within hours of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech the U. S. Congress declared war on Japan. Like many young men from that era my Uncle Sol was called up to serve.

My Uncle Sol would spend the next 4 years without leave working as a field artillery surveyor in the Pacific theater. During the war American GIs were forbidden by military censors to disclose their whereabouts to family members. In one of his letters home my Uncle Sol asked my grandmother to save the stamp on the envelope for his collection. By the time the letter made it to my grandmother’s hands, the stamp had been removed by military censors, along with the name of the island that my uncle had scrawled beneath it.

Years later my Uncle Sol revealed the name of the island where he had been stationed during the war. He spoke highly of the native people. They had been good to the American GIs, periodically preparing feasts for them garnished with plenty of locally grown fresh fruit. Many photos captured the camaraderie of these gatherings and served as keepsakes of happier times.

In his old age my Uncle Sol developed a number of health problems. He consulted a local physician-surgeon by the name of Suarez. At one of these visits in casual conversation my uncle spoke about his time of military service in the Solomon Islands. The doctor revealed that he had grown up in the same part of the world. My Uncle Sol dug up several photographs from that long-ago time and showed them to the doctor. After scrutinizing one of the black and white pictures, the physician-surgeon identified one of the locals. It was his own mother.

The surgeon-physician has since given up practice in the states and returned to the island where he grew up, the same island whose name my Uncle Sol had hidden beneath a stamp on an envelope that 70-some years ago bore one of his letters home.

When powders and potions won’t do

Practicing good medicine does not always mean prescribing medication. When powders and potions won’t do, sometimes education, a little reassurance — and advocating for the caretaker — go a long way.  more»

Interested readers can now access my latest Art of Medicine column — When powders and potions won’t do — 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.