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Stories by Jim Eichel

If He Goes, I Go Too

An elder death devotional.

It seemed as if everyone who worked at our local hospital knew Jake. A self-proclaimed “recovered hater of doctors,” he became a fixture, volunteering in the emergency room. The wisecracking 86-year-old’s wrinkled face, slumped shoulders, ...

If You Sue Me, I Can't Be Your Physician

Spinal infection from a dental procedure...huh?

“The pain is in my heart. I want you to send me to a heart specialist so that I can have an angiogram and have this taken care of right away.” Stephan’s deep, subdued tones, ...

Why Your Doctor’s in a Bad Mood

More from the war on medical insurance.

Managed care is forcing patients to get creative. Last year, I got a letter from an internal medicine colleague who practices just a few blocks from me. She and two other women internists took the ...

As Killing as the Canker to the Rose

A sister slips away

Melanie was 43 years old and determined. A 104-degree temperature did not keep her from going to her editing job at Blue Cross, but the mass on her left upper arm kept getting bigger and ...

Malpractice from the Doc’s Point of View

A lawyer’s daughter faints and sues.

WRAPPING UP A FULL WORKDAY AT 9:00 P.M., I PULLED THE LAST COUPLE OF ENVELOPES FROM MY “IN” BOX. THE HEAVY MANILA ONE PIQUED MY INTEREST, SO I OPENED IT. “Notice of Intent to Sue...” ...

Irma is allergic to life

House-bound patient finds menace everywhere.

‘I NEED TO HAVE SOME TEETH EXTRACTED.” IRMA ALWAYS SPEAKS AS THOUGH EACH WORD MIGHT CONSUME THE LAST OF HER LIMITED ENERGY. “BUT I’M ALSO HAVING A PROBLEM WITH MY HEART.” Irma has never come ...

I'm not God

Will Greta's baby choose life?

Mt two latex-gloved fingers extended as far into Greta's vagina as they could through the tight rubbery of of her cervix, grazing the firm, smooth, slippery surface of her baby’s lowest part, but I could ...

Environment of Mistrust

Patients get testy.

As I was completing my instructions to a diminutive 70-year-old Filipino gentleman with congestive heart failure, a knock at the door cut me short. “A patient is having a seizure.” Jo, a medical assistant with ...

I was worried that Fred might never wake up

Author misdiagnoses symptoms of coming heart attack.

“HELLO?” I tried not to sound too tired or annoyed, even though I was answering the phone from my bed and looking forward to ending my day. It was about 10:00 p.m. on a Friday ...

Time on the Court

I asked five women out a total of eight times, and they all bailed on me. One didn’t show up at all.

I have never thanked my father for one of the nicest and most difficult things he ever did for me, because until I thought of it just now, I didn’t realize he had done it, ...

What Happens When a Doctor Makes a Mistake

“She’s contracting every seven minutes and liquid is coming out.” It was a Sunday morning in early March, and I was the doctor on call for family practice and pregnancy-related matters. This call from a ...

Travel Bug

Doctor takes family Dominican Republic and regrets it.

"WAKE UP, HONEY. MOM FELL" It was 2:30 a.m. and the words were coming from my wife Terry. Accustomed to composing myself at any hour, I found myself resistant to doing so now, probably because ...

What is the name for this collection of events?

Was it lupus or gallstones attacking the kidneys?

BUDD, THE PRESIDENT OF OUR MEDICAL GROUP, TOLD ME A FEW WEEKS AGO, “IT IS MY GOAL NEVER TO BECOME AN INTERESTING PATIENT.” I hadn’t seen Sheryl in 19 months when she showed up for ...

Was this my fault?

Pneumonia, then blood clot, then stroke

Was This My Fault? “I THINK SHE HAS PNEUMONIA.” Anne, a nurse-practitioner student to whom I’m teaching outpatient medicine, was right. Flo, a proud, stubborn, wiry, 72-year-old African-American had called me earlier that day hoping ...

Appetite everywhere

I work on my patient's weight loss.

Two years ago, Glenda weighed 342 pounds, and it was clear to me she needed more than advice to exercise and eat right. From the face covered with zits to the ankles swollen with arthritis, ...

The bad ones get fired and the good ones race for the exit

How a primary care doc can keep staff from running off to Kaiser or the specialists

"This policy makes it clear what we should do about Jessica and Christine." Two medical assistants who worked in our office until they decided they would try going to Kaiser to improve their incomes, Jessica ...

You will not believe this guy's X-ray

Schizophrenia, cigarettes, lung cancer

“IT’S JUST A CASE OF MIDDLE-AGED HYPOCHONDRIA.” “NO, IT ISN'T” WAS MY MIND’S BLUNT REPLY. AS I STARED AT THE NEATLY HANDWRITTEN WORDS. I FELT MY FACE GRIMACE IN RESPECTFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF FATE’S TIMING. WHICH ...

The first human to touch my daughter's head

Doctor daddy.

“Don't push!” The command leaped from my lips as it had countless times in the past nine years, but this was different. The perineal skin blanching white just two feet from my face belonged to ...

Piece by piece

Good medical care right to the very end

“I feel awful.” Myrna’s 83-year-old vocal chords, partially paralyzed from her stroke two years ago, labored with the effort of speaking. The staphylococcus aureus bacteria coursing through her bloodstream had colonized her heart and brain, ...

Miriam's demise

Dead baby in the womb — doctor slays demon.

“Dr. Bender on line two for you, Dr. Eichel.” My mouth replied, “Thank you.” My mind thought, “Oh, no." An unsolicited, unexpected call from a radiologist never means good news. I went through my mental ...

No Cure for Chaos

I knew now that I couldn’t believe anything she had told me. Ever.

When she first visited my office, Joanne was Mary, and I was not surprised when she told me that not long before she had been Mark. She had a linebacker’s 5´10˝, 246-pound blocklike frame and ...

Cancer Isn't the Only Killer Stalking Randa

A cop's plate is too full

Randa’s blood pressure had risen again, and I needed to know why. An African-American police officer in her 40s and a single mother of three, Randa’s lips parted in a jovial smirk. “You really want ...

Ten guys and $7 billion

Why Kaiser will rule the world

OUR INDEPENDENT PROVIDER ASSOCIATION (IPA) MEETING THURSDAY NIGHT ADDRESSED NEARLY EVERY NIGHTMARISH ASPECT OF PRACTICING MEDICINE IN THE 1990S. MEETINGS SUCH AS THIS ARE RUINING MY HEALTH. Three months ago, our IPA announced it had ...

Queen of the button pushers

Who else would take this patient but me?

If you are a woman therapist in your late 40s, about 5'7" (“but not too tall”), blond of hair, conservative in dress, self-assured, nurturing, non-flamboyant with a pleasant voice, I want to meet you. Not ...

This must mean Fatouma really loves me

A doctor on a work vacation in Mali.

Underneath my name on the shingle that hangs outside of my office's front door are the words "Berkeley International Health." Until we sold our practice nine months ago. That was what my partner and I ...

It's none of your business whether I kill myself

Suicide may be legal in Japan, but not in California.

People have come into my office having heart attacks. But after Masako walked out our front door, I felt more helpless and frightened than at any other time during my four and a half years ...

Tell her the old lady hasn't got much time left

This week's theme is colon cancer

Some weeks in family practice have themes. This week's theme was colon cancer. Monday morning I went up to the sixth floor of the hospital to check on Viola. Now 86 years old, Viola is ...

The bad news wasn't the seizures

UC San Francisco neurosurgeon Charlie Wilson takes my call.

One afternoon about four years ago, my brother John called me during office hours. I had finished my family practice residency about six months before and was just starting my own practice in Berkeley, California. ...

The night God used binoculars

We pumped Gloria full of fluid and saved her life.

RUTH ANN, MY HOUSEMATE AND FELLOW SECOND-YEAR FAMILY PRACTICE RESIDENT, HAD TOLD ME VIRGINIA WASN’T DOING WELL WHEN SHE SIGNED OUT TO ME THAT AFTERNOON IN 1990. THAT EVENING, I GOT THE CALL FROM THE ...

Deliverance

A baby too eager to begin life outside the womb

JUST A COUPLE MORE PUSHES AND CHERYL, A 31 -YEAR-OLD JAZZ DANCER, WOULD HAVE HER FIRST BABY. I MET HER THE DAY BEFORE WHEN SHE CAME TO OUR SERVICE AT MARY HITCHCOCK MEDICAL CENTER. SHE ...

Show Me Your Saphenous Vein, James!

How UCSD Medical School transformed a young man into a doctor

During the first year of my residency in family practice in Maine, I came home to Los Angeles for Christmas. The climate switch in the seven-hour cross-country journey, from minus 10 to 86 degrees, didn’t ...

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