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55 words

Fifty-five word stories are brief pieces of experiential writing that use elements of poetry and prose to encapsulate key experiences.

Hughes Evans, vice chair for education in the Department of Pediatrics, uses the technique with her medical students and residents. “We often pare down our stories to be clinical, but that leaves out other aspects that have emotional resonance, parts that are funny or poignant,” she says. “These speak to a part of being a doctor that doesn’t always get its due—about death, making mistakes, or other things that are hard to deal with.”

Andrew McReynolds
24 years old. Blue jeans, white shirt. Credit card, driver’s license in a small black wallet. Bloodied, bruised, broken in pieces. A crumpled piece of paper in there. You want what’s best for your family. How did it feel, before you fell, to let go? Are you feeling better now? We picked up the pieces.

Rachel Buckle
2 am, an urgent call when we show up, her sheets are already soaked
a chaotic rush to delivery
translator yelling through the phone.
I have never seen so much blood.
I only know enough to be paralyzed.
She only knows enough to push through.
One still moment
Dad pleads, “Baby?”
With sharp wailing, baby answers.

Divya Kishore
The 20-year-old in cardiogenic shock said she had nobody. Her hobbies included playing games on her phone, and watching TV. Her mom and sister had died and she’d been through foster care. Her dad couldn’t raise her so he left. Through tears she asked us to please leave her alone before her right heart catheterization.

Kristen Balkam
Seven years old.
He came in having
swallowed a quarter.
It was stuck. Endoscopy needed
in the morning.
He smiled at me as I examined him.
I placed my stethoscope
on his abdomen.
He wiggled his body
back and forth.
He asked,
“Can you hear it? ... I’m
a piggy bank.”
Kids say the darnedest things.

Lia Phillips
Baby boy in for VSD repair.
Surgeons can’t pass the Foley.
Heart repair postponed. Parents expect a fixed baby, instead are learning to change an ostomy.
In recovery, new organ defects
discovered every day. Hope of
having a normal child is gone,
parents are grieving. Am I really the best person to start this

Erica Smearman
I remember the human body, splayed open, organs now removed. Sitting next to a liver packaged in a box for the trip back. Surgeons await. I pass it over. An insurmountable gift.
Through a death I helped finish, to the chance at life for another.
The joy. The heartbreak.
Wildly, beautifully,
tied together as one.

Lizzy Robertson
Code blue, what do I do?
Jumbled resuscitation algorithms
in my head
Heart racing, what room again?
Pager drops on the floor and breaks
Keep running, out of breath
Don’t know where that room is
Think I went down this hall already
Left or right? Which way?
Lost in the hospital
Code canceled!
Thank God.

Nathan Yarnell
New diagnosis. AML. Poor prognosis. Mom confident. Prefiere espanol. Playful, curly black locks. A real lady-killer at 12 months. Su fe en El Dios. Chemotherapy. Good PO. Broken Spanish. Está bien. New rash. Hopeful spirit. Está bien. Restricted from the garden. Está bien. Curly black locks fall to the floor. Está bien. Todo está bien.

Omar Shakeel
Healthy boy with new onset seizures,
Diagnosed with AVM, successfully resected, prognosis good,
We anticipate a quick recovery.
Increased ICP. EVD continues to drain. Pentobarb coma.
Three weeks pass,
we expect the worst.
Parents refuse to give up…
Just when your mind is made up,
his mind wakes up.
Never give up on miracles.

Uriel Castaneda
4 a.m. 3-year-old niece in Egleston ED. Bowel telescoping explains her shrieks. Uncle is here! What can he do? Explain diagnosis, bring popsicles, play Frozen the movie, interpret, advocate. He’s tired. Is he doing enough? Pain subsides with reduction. No surgery, thank God. How will I be remembered? Will my niece remember me as the doctor 
or the uncle?  

Rob Gonsalves
It wasn’t long ago that I was the one 
in a hospital bed. A new diagnosis. 
Finger-sticks and insulin injections. 
A long and bumpy road that undoubtedly led to my career in medicine. 
Now I am the one in the white coat. Making the diagnosis. Breaking the 
bad news. Offering hope. It’s come 
full circle.

Courtney Charvat
Back on service
Kid with rash may have Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome
… Cool!
Mom says visited Dubai, rode camels.
Dr. Miller super excited!
Health crisis! CDC called, lab emergently opened.
MERS negative.
Mom acts weird, goes to ED because nonresponsive.
Call grandma who says, “He’s never left Georgia. No camels. Momma crazy.”
Discharge diagnosis … rash.

Brian Winn
Hot summer day, middle of June. EMS calls in 5-year-old drowning, in asystole. We beat on her chest, give many rounds of epi surrounded by noisy chaos. All the while she stays cool, dark and dusky. The attending finally ends the madness. Mom asks “Why my child?” I reply, “I wish I knew.”

Allison Gay
Hughes Clinic, intern year. Newborn visit. First-time mom, full of questions.
I feel overwhelmed too, but we make it through. 2-week visit, 2 months, then 4. Always bigger, always happier.
9-month visit now, big laugh, bigger cheeks.  Mom holds him up, whispers in his ear, “Look bud, it’s your doctor!”
Small victories.

Marie Dufitumukiza
Notification—2-month-old by EMS—cardiac arrest. Heart thumps! Nervous! Eyes on attending. “What do I do?” “CPR.” Sigh of relief. I can do this. Baby arrives, unresponsive. Start compressions. Praying under breath. Mother stands in corner with tears, 5, 10, 15 minutes, nothing. “Time to call it.” 
I look up, lump in throat.

Laura Wilson
18-year-old with terrible disease. Dialysis dependent. Listed for transplant. Finally gets the call. Initial course is rocky but almost ready for home. “My back hurts. I don’t feel so good.” Crash. Code. Arterial anastomosis blown. Transplant is lost. Depression sets in. “I shouldn’t have survived.” Epiphany occurs. He is strong. Relisted once again.

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