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MUSE - Medical Humanities Section Newsletter – Fall 2014

Passion & The Medical Humanities

From the Chair

BaruchThere are few, if any, procedures in medical humanities. Creative work can’t be tagged with an ICD-10 code. The experience eludes Press Ganey. And RVUs don’t operate here. You don’t have to double-glove and gown up. Forget the time-out. If you feel the urge to mark the site of interest, do what I did when reading through the many submissions for our Writing Award and Visual Arts Award--leave plenty of exclamation points, or whatever serves as your symbol of astonishment and praise.

We were thrilled by the quality of work submitted for these two awards, and applaud the winners of our Writing Award and Visual Arts Award, Dr. Linda Keyes and Dr. Andrew Sweeney, respectively. But the pool was so deep with talent and vision, I nearly drowned in admiration.

The Fall 2014 issue of the Medical Humanities Newsletter includes our winners and runners-up, as well as contributions from section members that probe the idea of passion in medicine and our lives. Any talk of passion must include a grateful bow to the tireless Dr. Peter Paganussi, whose dedication as editor of this newsletter is matched only by his talents as a writer. Thank you.


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A woman rises well before dawn and heads out into the darkness. She makes her way around the back of her house down towards the barn by the stream. There is a chill in the air that makes her shiver a bit. Dew clings to the ankle-deep grass and wets her boots with each step. She opens the door and from within the dark hallows there is a rustling followed by a deeply pitched, staccato snort. Her heart races as she approaches the stall. The animal raises its head in anticipation. Their eyes lock in mutual reverence.  She smiles as the elegant beast nuzzles her with his head. There, lives and breaths, her passion.

A man waits on a hilltop over 300 miles from his home. He sits and stares at the night sky and the wonderful canopy of stars above his head. He has finished setting up his Celestron cpc 800 telescope with great care. It is his pride and joy this device that allows him a window into the universe. Now he waits for just the right moment to photograph this extraordinary event.  It begins like a symphony. The celestial beauty will swell and soar, but not immediately. It will transpire over minutes and then reach an apogee of pure perfection. A lunar eclipse unfolds, begging to be viewed and photographed in all its stark beauty. He would not miss this for the world!

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Visual Arts Award Runner-Up: Joshua Batt, DO




One Step at a Time
Joshua Batt, DO

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Turbulence from the middle seat

I felt the young woman in the middle seat looking over at the gruesome images on my iPad soon after the captain gave us cheery permission to use our electronic devices. “Are you a doctor?” she asked. I was studying for my second emergency medicine recertification board exam. I nodded tightly, my muscles twitching with petty resentments towards this exam--the studying time, the hoarding of arcane knowledge in a brain that craved more practical and relevant information, the financial expense, and the precious hours it took away from my writing.

“What type of doctor?” she asked.

“Emergency medicine.”

“Like ER? Really?” I showed her what I was reading as if to verify this fact.

“It must be hard,” she said. “And stressful.”

My lips pressed a smile with such force that my teeth ached. Then I returned to my materials.

“Do you love it?” she then asked. “Do you love medicine?”

I raised me head. Seriously? I thought. This wasn’t the standard middle-seat chit chat.  But she was genuine and her question deserved a thoughtful response. I weighed what she was asking.

“I love the idea of medicine,” I said. I mentioned the usual suspects of dismay and discontent: bureaucratic absurdities that would make Kafka smirk.

“You wouldn’t like people like me,” she said. “I work for an insurance company.”

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The Surgeon's Territory

In the distance, across the high desert plateau, the lights of my suburban enclave nestle against the foothills. The lights end where the wilderness begins. Deer and even mountain lion wander down into my neighborhood from time to time. I chose deliberately to live closer to nature and further from the medical center. Tonight, however, I am anxious to be home and the route feels long. I haven’t slept and I’ve spent most of the last twenty-four hours in the operating room. Yawning, I flip on my high beams and accelerate. At this hour I don’t worry about cops or other cars, though a colleague once killed a coyote on this road.  I blink a few times, squinting through the windshield. Sometimes driving home late, when I’m tired like this, I glimpse something - a form, a creature, an ephemeral but dangerous being moving along with me in the penumbra of my headlights. Whenever I take a sip of coffee and look again however, nothing is ever there.

Once home, I strip off my scrubs and head to my garden. The scent of cedar wafts up as I push off the heavy cover of the hot tub. From the scant rays of the porch light, I can see the steam rise into the night air, but when the cover is out of the way I extinguish the light. Now I feel my way back along the patio, towards the invisible heat. I slip out of my flip-flops and robe and into the dark water. It’s too hot at first, but I ignore the burning and let the bath sear the tension of the last twenty-four hours out of me. I adjust quickly to the temperature, yawn and slide down until the back of my neck is cradled against the wooden side and my body is fully submerged. My legs float up and I feel the silky smoothness of the wood bench beneath my bare skin. The hum of the heater pump clicks off and the silence of the night envelops me. The moon has not yet risen and I spot Cassiopeia and Orion’s belt. Mars glows its gentle red, or maybe it’s Betelgeuse. It doesn’t matter. I’m more of a star wisher. Tonight, I wish I could reverse the day’s events.

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I Stood in the Pasture

I stood in the pasture while a small herd of unbroken horses was to be released from the adjacent arena. My back was to them and the sun felt warm and familiar, even comforting. At odds was the growing sense of anxiety tightening my chest, restricting my breathing. This was a part of an exercise to bring me into the moment.

"What do you hear?",  he asked. "How many sounds can you distinguish?"

Seriously? Something besides my heart pounding and the rushing pulsation of the blood in my ears?

"Notice each sense within you. Use your eyes to see without focus, your ears to separate each sound. Feel your body and where you are carrying the emotion. Breathe in all of the smells. Feel the vibrations in your body."

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Board Liaison Report

KaplanThe following is an update from your ACEP Board Liaison:

This section newsletter is about passion what drives each of us to be the healers we are.  And as we continue our journey, we want to continue to grow and prosper.  Part of my responsibility as your Board Liaison is to work with other College leaders to ensure that you have the opportunities to do so.  I want to report to you what we have been involved in on your behalf.

ACEP14 in Chicago
ACEP14 is almost here. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a brand new attendee, ACEP14 will be an experience like none other. You will find new ways to learn, new opportunities to network, and new reasons to build a solid foundation for our specialty. Highlights include the following:

  • 350 educational courses, labs and workshops
  • 26 topic areas related to clinical issues and practice trends
  • NEW! An “EM Hackathon” to crowd-source health care solutions*
  • An Opening Session with the international bestselling authors of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
  • Sessions designed specifically for residents and medical students
  • An expanded, case-based innovatED experience
  • Wellness Center for your annual check-up
  • Dine around events for quality one-on-one time with notable EM leaders
  • The ACEP14 Kickoff Party at the popular Navy Pier
  • A Closing Celebration at the Museum of Science and Industry

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From the Editor

Passion is the underlying thread to what follows in these pages. The works and labors of our section flow forth for all to enjoy, with passion at its core. We have poetry, essays, and our annual Writing Award Winner and runner-up. We also have our Visual Arts Award winner and a few other runner-up entries from that competition.

What energizes these works and makes them so special is passion. Passion is the neurotransmitter compound that runs from creative synapse to synapse in this newsletter. The works speak for themselves. Really no other commentary is necessary at this point. I will cast the first line for us. Sit back and take a ride with the ACEP Section of Medial Humanities along the neurons of our humble little group and into the core of passion.

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Visual Arts Runner-up: Brandon Ku, MD

Humanities photo 1

 Rift – Marlboro Point
Brandon Ku, MD

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Starting a fire

starting a fire
the question arises
           not when
to do so requires
           that which is to be burned
           the igniting spark
           air the feeder of the flame
once lit
it takes time for all to work together
to catch and self-perpetuate
           creating comfort

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Masai Brothers
Andrew Sweeney, MD

View it at:

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Swept away by traditional Irish music

the broom sweeps the unwanted out the door
the music sweeps the longed for into the entryway of the heart
           pulsing rhythmically
           changing cadence and tone
           no skipped beats or fibrillations
only the heartbeat of the tapping foot tying together all
bringing more life and the emergence of spirit
sustaining the entirety of being

imagine that
             the music at once
                        the hawk soaring in the azure sky
                        the angelfish gliding in the warm ocean current
                        the child pitter-pattering,
                                    feet carrying it to never-ending new discoveries

divine intervention

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Visual Arts Award Runner-Up: Andrew Park, MD



 The Passion of the Lead Dog
Andrew Park, MD

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I am a Doctor

About a decade ago it was only a thought,
Physician hood I wanted med school I sought
Years of competing through college of fought
To prove to the committee I was the best of the lot

Make me a doctor make me a man, make me a doctor as fast as you can,
Make me a doctor and soon I will see a dying man happy, compassion and me

Oh thank God I finally got in,
Couldn’t wait ‘till September when I would begin
Such nativity not even aware,
The nights, the long hours, but I didn’t care

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