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Medical Humanities


By Emily Pinto Taylor

"Opportunistic: able to spread quickly in a previously unexploited habitat."

Today in small group, we read a case study.
"41 year old woman, diagnosed
7 years ago,
prescribed anti-retroviral medications that
she discontinued after 1 year due to
"all those side effects."

The student next to me, full of the naive frustration
of the over-educated and under-experienced
throws up her hands
she shouts, and those around us giggle politely.

Why indeed, I wonder, and I remember
being 19, and spending time in the HIV clinic
downtown, where only buses ran
and the parking lot was deceptively small
because they served 100s of patients a day
and homeless men didn't have cars.

I remember his face, and how coordinated he was
shirt and tie, pressed jeans, brown shiny shoes.
Brown glasses framing bright blue eyes
thin lips hiding
frustration with medication, with sickness, with loneliness.
He was doing fine, medically
but desperately wanted to be something for someone
and his last two dates were embarrassing
because the drugs we were using to save him
made him lose his teeth.

He smiled wanly, closed-lipped, and told us how he'd liked those men,
but couldn't show it well
hiding his enthusiasm for the play, or enjoyment of the concert
behind his cupped palm, where he spoke softly
so you couldn't hear the missing
of tongue on teeth.

I remember him, and his pain, and his desperate desire

for what I took for granted
(I could speak to my partner with my mouth wide
smiling with the buck teeth I was born with)
and I watched as the doctor I stood next to
hugged him for a long time.

Now, I look at the student next to me,
4 years removed from the girl that I was, and the patient who taught me
what was a "side effect"
and what was truly painful,
what was barely bearable,
and I nod imperceptibly,
knowing that there is a 41 year old woman out there who
chose to go off her medications and got pneumonia
and I understand why.

Emily Pinto Taylor is a full-time chocolate chip cookie baker and daydreamer and part-time MS2 at Loyola University Chicago -- Stritch School of Medicine. She is currently undecided on a medical specialty, but plans of being "whichever type of doctor listens to patients' stories"

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