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Interlocking Pieces: On the Occasion of a Big Birthday

Standing taller than us in the back corner of my brother’s childhood bedroom was a particle board bookshelf, medium brown like our skin. My brother and dad assembled it themselves from a box; I got to put wood-printed stickers over the exposed screws. He always displayed his latest Lego creation on the middle shelf, just at little sister height. These constructions hinted at his future engineering degree: pulled from big Expert Builder sets he made cars with nubby monster truck wheels, gears, and working motors.

Growing up I adored my older brother. I listened to the music he listened to, I wanted to attend the college he attended (I didn’t get accepted there but it turned out pretty well for me), and I was in awe of his Lego skills.

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Happy Sam

The first thing I did when I got to the beach was look for Flappy, our ring billed gull friend who has a short left leg and a crimped left foot. We first met her six years ago when she found some vegetables that fell off my pizza; we’ve been seeing her at the beach ever since. Flappy, named in 2014 by my then toddlers, hops with her right foot and sweeps the sand with her left; she’s small but can squawk as loud as the other seagulls. The only consequence she seems to face is that she’s an easy target for some children to chase.

Flappy, drying her feathers.

Flappy and I know each other now. I like to think that we seek each other out. Certainly she is no longer scared of me and my DSLR; she has posed for many pictures. On this particular beach, the one to which my in-laws have been graciously welcoming me since I was just the girl their middle son was dating, Flappy and I make a good, conspicuous team.  She stands out because of her foot and I stand out because usually I am the only person on the mile long beach with brown skin.  

The last time I was at the beach melanin was on my mind even more than usual. Kamala Harris had just been selected as the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee. At work we had been discussing racism and anti-racism in medicine, as well as how to recruit and support physicians from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. These discussions made me reflect on my own experiences with choosing a place to live and to work. Eventually my thoughts circled around to something that happened when I was very young.

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DNF

It’s fitting that I’m re-reading Anne of Green Gables right now because I’m having the kind of spring for which Anne would have strings of words and metaphors.

My day started with all of us and the dog in the car driving an unfamiliar road lined by a new-to-us mountain scape, slightly taller and pointier than our familiar friends. The sun reflected rainbows of buds and baby leaves off the hills. I was on my way to start my own half marathon since my usual Mother’s Day race had, of course, been cancelled in the name of physical distancing. Andy and the girls, who were still in their PJs, dropped me off in the parking lot at the far end of our local bike trail. I would see them next as I ran past our house a third of the way through the 13.1 miles. Continue Reading

Recovery

We’re doing a family walk with the dog on Saturday, my first morning free after five days of doctoring in the COVID-19 era. I’m orbiting outside the family conversation, my hands balled inside my mittens. The sun burns out the remnants of my feelings. The only thing I connect with is a dead tree trunk, sculpted by wind and snow and rain and sun so that it has a new life as a thing of beauty. Continue Reading

Easiest Way Down

There must be a view on top of our local ski mountain but the three times I’ve been up there the signs screaming “EASIEST WAY DOWN” made me forget to take it in. I saw that landscape once from the lift by looking backwards, deep breathing to expel my fear of heights, and ignoring the drop to the icy slope below. Rounded brown hills up front bristled with bare trees, blue, jagged silhouettes loomed tall at the back and in the middle, layered between the valleys, purple slopes transformed the Berkshires into the Green Mountains. I was surprised to see that we were tucked within millions of years of living geology, because once on the top of the mountain I was tense, reactive, and unaware of my surroundings, focused only on how to make it to the bottom.
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Gratitude (and Gingermouse is Two!)

Today, on the second anniversary of Gingermouse Take Two- give or take a couple of days- let us reflect on the few days leading up to Thanksgiving. Our hot water heater broke, I developed a terrifically itchy rash after peeling butternut squash, and when we talked about gratitude at the dinner table the night before the holiday the first statement was “I’m thankful that the dog is going to daycare for Thanksgiving so she doesn’t step on my head in the car!” The second was similar but it involved… dog poop.

Eeeagh, my hand! Oh, wait some of that is just squash sap.

Right. But a nice man came to repair the water heater on his way to Virginia for his family gathering, the rash went away in a few days, and the children… well, they are still eight and I love their silly jokes.

This afternoon Andy noted that we never got to what I’m grateful for. So, here it is.

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99239: Hospital Discharge >30 Minutes

Every day during rounds Jeremiah*, a toddler with a congenital illness and severe developmental delay who required intense care at home, lay silently in his hospital crib, back arched, thin limbs still. In the year that I had known him I don’t think he ever looked at me, though I was fiercely dedicated to him and his family.  I also don’t know if he was able to remember me from one day’s rounds to the next or from admission to admission. He certainly knew nothing of the time I spent outside the room advocating for him and his parents.  When he was at home he had many appointments, continuous feeding through a tube in his stomach, medications given on a schedule, and needed constant attention to keep him well. Jeremiah’s family, though, was trapped in the web of poverty and circumstances that ensnares so many of my patients, and they weren’t meeting his complex needs.  During each hospital stay I tried to get help for them but their challenges were convoluted and impenetrable.

As a result, the last day of his last hospital visit was different. Continue Reading

Tiny Little Fish, Swimming

My patient, an elderly woman with a warm smile and bright lipstick greeted me enthusiastically though I didn’t know if she remembered me from the day before.

“You know, they did a surgery on me yesterday,” she told me.  “The doctor there, he was really surprised.  You know why? What came out was tiny fish! Can you believe it, tiny little fish swimming!”

I saw a tube, a small hose, snaking from her lung through her gown all the way to the plastic box on the floor.  The fluid in the box was blood, almost a liters worth.

“Oh?!” I said, picturing betta fish floating in the drain box, like an extravagant party table decoration for a strange medically-themed party.

“Yes! He said he had never seen anything like it before.” She shook her head.

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Surrealism

As it happens, I got my first work text of the morning while I was still brushing my teeth. My resident for the week had a dying patient who was new to both of us. I rushed in, but the patient passed before I got to meet him. All I knew about him was handed over to me from the attending who had cared for him the previous day.

The previous day.

The previous day started out okay enough. Andy went to see his ailing mother, my girls’ Nana, in the hospital and I dropped the girls off at a friend’s house. It was above freezing and the bright sun reflecting off the snow foreshadowed summer. I went for a run, a long slog on uneven, slippery terrain with no black pavement showing through. Nana was sick, not just sick, but sick-sick, that sense we spend years cultivating in medical school and residency.   My quads burning, I pushed myself to keep running past that thought. I felt revived by the cold brightness, the dense white slush on the ground. I was thankful to be alive, to have strength and balance and health.

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Superb Owls

I’m no birder, and before this fall I had never seen an owl in person. That changed around November when a housecat-sized brown and white flecked bird with a yellow beak and talons began using the sumac trees at the border of our yard to rest. At first when we all ran out to see her she swiveled her head left, right and around. Her big black eyes seemed wary, and she moved her perch slightly away from us. The more she came by the more she seemed to know us, though.  She stared at us, her wide eyes narrowing with sleep even as I pointed my telephoto lens at her or as the girls went sledding down a hill, whooping and yelling right in front of her tree.

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