© Mike Twohy, cartoonbank.com

Century Marks

First (and last), do no harm: Surgeon Pauline W. Chen recalls that before she graduated from medical school a veteran surgeon told her, without emotion, “Somewhere along the line you are going to kill one of your patients.” This remark haunted her after one of her patients died following surgery, despite her best efforts to keep him alive. Doctors take their work very personally, she says, and surgeons will do everything possible to keep a patient from dying, especially “on the table.” But once a patient dies, doctors are eager to get the deceased body out of the operating room. “By defining death only as the result of errors, we erase the face of the patient and insert our own fiercely optimistic version of immortality,” thus denying “ourselves grief” (Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter).


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