"I don't just read Pulse, I adore it." --Donald Berwick MD
"The plastic surgeons tell me that women who like to swim do much better with reconstruction than with prostheses," says a young breast surgeon at our weekly Breast Cancer Tumor Board, the working conference where we discuss every new breast cancer patient before starting treatment.
There's a slight note of surprise in her voice; to her, it's simply another consideration when advising women before mastectomy.
For decades, the only option after a mastectomy was a prosthesis, or breast form--something shaped and weighted to fill the empty cup of the brassiere and lie, more or less comfortably, against the chest wall. I sometimes tell my patients that using a prosthesis is a bit like going back to the days when we were little girls, stuffing our bras with tissues or old socks to fill them out.
Lying in bed and waiting for the purple
bruises to fade from my arms,
I remember the grinding pebbles underfoot
when I gave in to the muscular embrace of the ocean.
Now I rest in the wash of what has been accomplished.
A shallow golden river is pouring itself over stones,
over this empty husk, scooped shell of waiting
for transformation. Also transportation:
I need a fresh itinerary now
a dismantled world is being reassembled;
new map of stars I gaze at from the cool
tank of silence where I lie back, bathe,
and wait for the purple to fade.
"Ray, can you bring me some Poligrip?" says the message on my voice mail. "My teeth are falling out."
I know Barbara means just her uppers, because she has no bottom teeth.
"I don't get my check until Tuesday," she adds. It's now Friday afternoon.
I smile, thinking, Where does she think I might get Poligrip? Does she think I have a supply in my desk drawer?
The support staff, who have a lot of items, won't have Poligrip. If I asked them for it, however, they too would smile.
Smile is the word you want to remember in this account, because Barbara makes me smile--and I especially value those who can do so these days.
a treasury of compelling stories and poems.
Includes The Resilient Heart , Babel: The Voices of a Medical Trauma and Confessions of a Seventy-Five-Year-Old Drug Addict. Foreword by Maureen Bisognano, President of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
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