Sunday, November 13, 2011


A picture is worth a thousand words. Nowhere is this more true than in modern medicine. A picture can change a life; sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

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Last week I went on a call for "sick person, vomiting." We found a woman, maybe sixty-five, sitting cross-legged on the floor. History was hard. I don't speak Farsi. We managed to get from her husband that he'd woken up to find her vomiting and confused.

I tried to ask her what was going on. She replied and even I could tell that it was word salad, gibberish. Nothing made sense.

She raised her right hand to wipe her mouth, but her left remained obstinately in her lap, unmoving. The fireman called out a blood pressure; "two-ten over one-forty."

"What?!" said her husband, trying to read the Lifepak. "What was her blood pressure?"

"Sir," I asked, "When was the last time you saw her normal?"

"Her blood pressure was what?!"

"Sir ... sir ..." I finally grabbed his shoulder. "Sir. When. Was. She. Last. Normal."

"Uh, uh ... midnight, I talked to her at midnight."

"Okay," I said, changing my grip on his shoulder to a comforting pat, trying not to show the disappointment on my face. "Okay. We'll take her to the hospital."

We carried her downstairs, put her in the ambulance, ran with lights and sirens to the hospital.

I stayed long enough to see the scan.

No one needed a radiologist.

* * * *

A man woke up to find his wife vomiting, and a picture changed their lives.

* * * *

A few months ago my wife woke up vomiting.

A picture changed our lives.

* * * *

So today, my readers, I would ask you to do one thing: Think about what you get frustrated about, what you long for, what you are unhappy with. Then think about what kind of black-and-white picture a doctor could hand you, how it could change your whole world in the space of a heartbeat, and how grateful - how terribly, earnestly, jaw-clenchingly, tearfully grateful - you should be for your life, and what you have, and the opportunities that will open up before you.

For the truth is that life is fragile, and short, and even the best surprises in life means that everything will change. Embrace the change, appreciate every day, and go hug your family. That's what I'm doing.