Posts tagged #compassion

How we honor a new organ donor


The double doors of the surgical intensive care unit opened into a hallway crowded with dozens of hospital employees. A hospital bed emerged, and we all fell silent.

Most beds roll out of the I.C.U. briskly, en route to radiology or an operating room, whirring with the beeps and blinks of monitors and the quick conversation of busy nurses.

This bed was different. It moved at a stately pace, and the team that accompanied it was changed as well. Nurses steered, but there was no chitchat this time. A tall anesthesiologist learned over the head of the bed to squeeze a bag valve oxygen mask with clocklike regularity.

People in street clothes trailed close behind the bed, unsure of where to look. These were the parents of the young woman in the bed, the one we had all come to honor.

This was an “honor walk” for a dying patient about to donate her organs to others.

To learn more, check out my new article at The New York Times.

Lessons learned from a beatbox heart

Jimmy’s mother cries in the corner. She holds her hands up and open, the way you might receive a baby.  Or, the way you indicate helplessness when your baby is now addicted to heroin and shivering in a hospital bed.

Jimmy’s heart is failing.  Antibiotics alone will fail him.  Soon a surgeon will open Jimmy’s chest, cut out his heart valve, and sew in a new one.  I say this as gently as I can.

Standing with a medical student beside me, I try to teach about the physical exam. About compassion. About how to respond when a young man who hasn't opened his eyes for minutes suddenly does, and says something frightening. 

Check out my new essay at ReflectMedEd for more.

Posted on December 6, 2016 .

The Dignity of a Porn Star: What Was Lacking in Our Response to Cameron Bay

Porn stars all across Fresno were told to put their clothes back on and go home a couple of weeks ago on the news that a 29 year-old adult actress named Cameron Bay tested positive for HIV.

The Internet lit up. News, judgments, and jokes shot left and right in newsrooms as freely as bodily fluids fly on set. 


Something important is lacking though: concern for Ms. Bay. This young woman just learned that she has an incurable and potentially lethal disease. Our first emotion, I think, should be concern. We should commiserate. We should be grateful for our health and hopeful for hers. 

I learned this from Jose*, a patient in my HIV clinic. Jose was a muscular guy who wore tight black shirts and a jet-black goatee. The list of movies in which Jose engaged in unprotected anal sex was long. Very long. None of the titles can be repeated here so let’s just say somebody is making good money dreaming up new variations on the Bareback Mountain theme. 

Read the full article at Scientific American guest blogs.  It was also republished at The Health Care Blog.

Posted on September 8, 2013 .