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The Secret of Healing Touch

Watercolor of tribal woman

As I Say, Not as I Do by Caitlin McDonagh

The case of Mr. Danska would be just a one-night stand, but it would get me thinking about how medicine has something unexplainable about it, which is its heart.

It started one night when I was on call for the ICU, resting in the tiny, airless call room reserved for the senior medical resident. I was lying on the bed, eyes closed. It was only 9:00 p.m., but I’d learned to take my rest when I could get it. My beeper went off. It was the ER. There was an admission for me—a 42-year-old guy having a massive heart attack. I left the call room, went downstairs, and found Mr. Danska lying on a gurney in the hallway with his head elevated. He was a small, slim man with thinning blond hair. He had oxygen going, an IV in each arm, and an EKG monitor next to him. He was pale under his tan, drawn but calm. The intern and I rolled Mr. D out of the ER toward the elevator, and I distracted him with chitchat. The elevator doors opened. It was empty, and we three got in. The intern pushed 7 and the doors closed. It was quiet. The elevator started to go up. Suddenly… “Damn.” “What?” the intern asked. “Look at the monitor,” I said. “He’s in v‑tach.” V‑tach is ventricular tachycardia, a rapid heart rate that arises from a damaged left ventricle and can turn quick …

The piece was adapted from Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing, published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Victoria Sweet MD is an associate clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, as well as a prizewinning historian and author of God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine and Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing.

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