Are Doctors Heroes?

The effervescent rays of sunshine spread their warmth across my back as I walk along Omaha Beach in Normandy. French children kick around a soccer ball, shouting and giggling across a fifty-yard stretch of sand. A tranquil ocean extends into the horizon, effortlessly mingling with the sky making it impossible to tell where one starts and...

The Other Victims of Covid-19

“I just want to run this case by you,” the emergency room doctor at the other hospital told me on the phone. We frequently get these calls from other hospitals. Smaller emergency rooms with fewer resources often don’t know what to do in complex situations. After all, scientific literature in medical subspecialties changes rapidly...

A Journal of the Plague Months

From 1665 to 1666, the Great Plague spread through London. Caused by a bacteria transmitted by the bite of a rat flea, it killed nearly a quarter of London’s population in the span of 18 months. Such a deadly conflagration must have seemed strange and terrifying to its victims; there was no germ theory to explain its spread,...

The Absent Oncologist

We admitted the patient to our service from the emergency room to treat her for thrombocytopenia (an abnormally low platelet count) and spontaneous bruising. The patient, in her fifties, was otherwise healthy. True, she had been treated for stomach cancer nearly seven years ago, but it was in remission and had been for a while. She had...

Why I, a Physician, Write

I remember my first encounter with great literature. Before bedtime, my father would read Great Expectations to me, using different voices for different characters. I remember Pip and Miss Havisham, though I don’t think I fully understood Miss Havisham’s peremptory and eery commandment to Pip to love Stella. I remember the stygian...

What Makes a Great Physician?

At this blog’s inception nearly five years ago, I asked myself the following question: “When you watch impressive doctors at work, what is it that most impresses you?” In other words, what makes a great physician? I was a third-year medical student at the time and I couldn’t answer the question. At the beginning of training one...

Medicine as a Vocation

“Hey, doc, come over here!” the patient shouts at me and gestures with a quick wave of his hand as I walk by his room. “I need to show you something. Take a look at this.” Without waiting for me to ask him what is wrong, he takes out his member and testicles and points at them. “One of my testicles is swollen. Look! And it’s...

Bigotry, Medicine, and Pittsburgh

“You’re one of them wealthy people, from that wealthy family — what are they called? The Rothbergs?” “You mean the Rothschilds?” I asked. “Yeah they’re the ones. You’re related to them?” “No, sir. My last name is Rothstein — different family but same religion.” Most of the time I don’t hear about race or...

Is More Medical Testing Better?

“I think this patient needs a CT scan of her chest,” the consulting physician said to me over the phone. “Her lungs sound bad, and given her history, we need to make sure she isn’t developing pneumonia.” The patient, though only thirty-five, had been through a lot during her hospitalization. She came in a week prior with some...

Reflections on Treating the Poor

It is altogether curious your first contact with poverty. You have thought so much about poverty — it is the thing you have feared all your life, the thing you knew would happen sooner or later; and it is all so utterly and prosaically different. You thought it would be quite simple; it is extraordinarily complicated. You thought it...

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