The first mistake I made
was leaving my ID card home
in the pocket of my fleece--
the one with a zipper that broke
in Namibia and a hole stabbed
by a pencil during finals, worn
deep with worry and time.
Later, I asked someone else
to let me into the lab.
We made small talk in the hall.
Second, it was drizzling and my umbrella
knew not where it was. How poetic!
I mean to say, I forgot it too.
Morning lecture dried my frizzled hair,
and anyway, maybe cadavers like
the smell of rain.
Susan S. Turner
When I find a lump in my left breast I am stunned. I probably shouldn't be surprised, but I'm immobilized. It takes me several days before I tell my partner, who has to push me into action. I get the referral from my doctor and schedule a mammogram. The radiology practice fits me into their schedule that same week, but I still have several days to sit with the unknown.
Finally the day of the appointment comes. I wait in the reception area for an hour before the X-ray technician calls my name. As we walk to the exam room, me in my usual long leg braces and aluminum forearm crutches, she is chatty and asks, "How did you get here today?"
"I took the Thruway to Exit 133," I respond. "The office was easy to find."
Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.
I learned that in the first year of medical school. "Nonmaleficence" is the fancy name given to this sentiment, and it's one of the four pillars of modern bioethics. In real life, it's an impossible standard: We harm patients all the time. But the spirit behind the principle is what matters. Do the least possible harm to patients as they go through the medical system. Do only what is necessary. Act only when the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.
As a third-year medical student on rotation in the intensive-care unit (ICU), I admitted David, an elderly man transferred from another hospital because a severe lung infection was making it hard for him to breathe.