Friday, July 28, 2006

"Died of Renal Failure"

I worked in a hospital in rural Haiti during the summer of 1999 as a college student. I recently found some old folders from back then, and saw faces of patients long dead. Since in Haiti there are not the same privacy laws we have here, I can share the faces of the people I saw there. I still wish to portray people with the utmost respect. (Often patients asked me to take their pictures or draw them.) There are some things you can see in the face of dying patients that it is impossible to describe. This is a woman who came to our hospital from a tiny village. She was found to be in renal failure. There was no dialysis for poor Hatians, so there was nothing that could be done for her. She went home to die with her family. Before putting her in the truck to carry her home, I made this picture. She asked me not to forget her. I haven't.

I first experienced medicine in Haiti. I still think of the people I cared for there, as I now study medicine here in Tennessee. I have another woman (whose name or story I would not be permitted to tell) who will die very soon, perhaps even tonight. I sometimes wonder if I get “too involved” with my patients. In specialties other than Family Medicine loving your patients is often looked down upon. I think, however, that for those who are suffering, kindness is often much better than medicines.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Pragmatic Use of Embryonic Stem Cells

Embryonic stem cell research was in the news today. (New York Times Article) I doubt the veto will last. Polls say 75% of Americans want embryonic stem cell research so there is little doubt they will eventually get it. I don't think I am being too incendiary to make the comparison to the crimes of my ancestors against the slaves they bought and sold:

Stem Cells and Slavery:

America has always been a pragmatic, business-minded culture. Most of our genocides have been done in name of sober well-doing. We have a history of inventing entities that we call humans but not persons (human things rather than human beings). Then we kill, maim, enslave, banish these “things” in the name of charity or good business.

We tend to invent these “human things” when our fellow humans can be conveniently used to further our goals, and then with clear consciences we go about our violent business. History will always judge us as murderers. We are, but we are not viscous murderers—just practical well-meaning murderers.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Just came back from trip to Florida. I wrote this a few years ago when I was down there. I don't think I would state it in such a negative way were I to write it today. Mountains are no more virtuous that beaches. I hope my relatives who retired to Florida don't take this literally. I think, however, the dangers of consuming the world for our own pleasure is quite real.

Florida is a lie. The warm sun, the ocean breezes, the year-round flowers: all lies. They are the forgetful lotus, the siren song lulling the unaware to poisoned sleep. This is not real. Were it real life in the tropics you would be malnourished and riddled with parasites, rather than fat and relaxed. Give me the dark grandeur of mountains. They might keep my soul alive. The tropics have been tamed, their wildness subjected to air conditioning and lawn mowers. Buy up beach front property and be lulled into the life of pleasure and ease.

This is our American Heaven, live your life well and you get to come here when you retire. But it is not heaven. It is anesthesia for the heart. Put you down quietly, forget the evils of your world, forget your obligations to the needy, forget the needs of your soul, sit in a comfortable chair under a palm tree and forget it all. But Florida is a lie. Even this world is not tamed. The Hurricanes and heart attacks will come like thieves in the night. The fountain of warm-climate youthful sensation will dry up. Give me the dark grandeur of the mountains where the sight of immensity or the shroud of fog will remind me of my death daily. I hope that I may consume fewer pre-packaged comforts and perhaps pay some attention to the state of my soul.