When a discharge instruction is overlooked

Suddenly, I think back to the other boy with the ocular injury I saw earlier this evening. I recall that I neglected to mention something very important in my final discharge instructions. I promise myself that this time round I won’t make the same error. more»

Interested readers can now access my latest Art of Medicine column — When a discharge instruction is overlooked — 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.

The Supplicant

I sit at priestly table
Imbibing an early lunch
Of chicken soup and bread,
A heel now bruised, unleavened,
Remnant of last night’s supper.
On tiny tapping pads
The supplicant approaches,
Stands beside my chair,
Eyes turned toward heaven—
The smell of chicken soup.
The supplicant rises to place
Both paws, crossed, on my thigh,
Penitent eyes pleading
Forgiveness and a crumb.
Reluctantly, I break the bread,
Dip a morsel in the broth
Then hold it out before the nose.
This offering of bread and soup
Is measured in one gulp.
The supplicant drops down
On all four paws again;
Pink tongue licks her muzzle.
Renewed, patiently she waits.
“Only one host per communicant,”
I liturgically intone.
Nonplussed, she trots to
The far end of the table
Seeking sustenance from
Another priest.


A Christmas story

In “A Victorian Christmas,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd describes Charles Dickens’ final Christmas as “painful and miserable.”

In many of his literary works Dickens had managed to find some redeeming value in Christmas.  At the last he was confined to bed, beset by sheer exhaustion and severe gout.  Even after a lifetime of literary successes, the novelist was haunted by the fear of future obscurity.

And yet Dickens seems to have come to accept the hand that fate had dealt him.  With an air of equanimity he advocated that each one of us should “Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly.”

As enlightening as Dowd’s Dickensian column is, to my mind one reader’s comment trumps it.

Bryan Barrett of Malvern, Pennsylvania, records a tale of forgiveness recalled from a boyhood Christmas long past.

In 1950 Santa was intercepted and his gifts placed in my Dad’s car mysteriously disappeared. Panic at midnight ensued; the police were informed as was the toy store owner. I accompanied my Dad to the toy store to replenish and returned home where the police were waiting with the purloined toys and the suspect. My Dad invited all inside our home where he poured Irish Whisky. He requested that the police not press charges, drive the man home with the gifts, and all drank a toast to Christmas. The following morning Dad arose early, drove to his sisters store, loaded his car with food and delivered it to the man, who had seven kids, no job, no money and was desperate. They had grown up together. My Dad arranged a job for him which he held until he retired. For many years Dad sent a Christmas food hamper to them until the kids were raised and never mentioned this wonderful incident to anyone. My Mom and yours truly were the only witnesses, other than the police and the desperate man.

Would that we all, like Barrett’s father, might practice the Dickensian tradition — both at Christmas time and throughout the year.