Editor’s note: “Narrative Matters: On Our Reading List” is a monthly roundup where we share some of the most compelling health care narratives driving the news and conversation in recent weeks.
In this month’s Narrative Matters essay, former Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Louis Sullivan writes about growing up in rural Georgia and entering medical school as the only black student in his class. Sullivan graduated from Boston University School of Medicine in 1958 with only $500 in debt — hard to fathom when, today, med students might finish school owing some $150,000 to $250,000. Sullivan reflects on what’s needed to make medical education more affordable and thus enable more minorities to become doctors and other health professionals. You can also listen to the essay on our podcast.
Here’s what else is on our reading list:
Johns Hopkins pediatrician Tafadzwa Kasambira writes a brief, emotional account of watching a seven-year-old patient die of meningitis, in the Washingtonian.
Annie Brewster and Leah Meyer write about Colleen Lum, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a decade ago and has now decided to stop treatment and face death, for WBUR in Boston. “After years of intrusive treatment, harsh side effects, and approximately 160 rounds of chemotherapy, Lum knew in April that it was time to stop,” Brewster and Meyer write. “Her body had had enough.”
Martin Kuz writes about veterans lost to suicide—and their surviving family members— even years after their tours of duties end, for the San Antonio Express-News. The stories of the families and veterans Kuz interviews “illuminates the long reach of PTSD and the enduring, largely invisible aftermath of America’s 21st-century wars on veterans and their families.”
Rachel Premack writes about Jerika Bolen, a 14-year-old with Type 2 spinal muscular atrophy, a rare disease that causes debilitating pain and loss of muscle control, for The Washington Post. Kept alive with help from a ventilator currently, Bolen plans to turn off her ventilator by the end of August and spend her final days at home.
Alison Piepmeier, a longtime columnist for Charleston City Paper, began to chronicle life with a growing brain tumor on her column after being diagnosed in 2014. In her latest columns, she comes to terms with her impending death, while hoping each column won’t be her last.
Larissa MacFarquhar writes about the daily work of Heather Meyerend, a hospice nurse “who treats the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs of people at the most vulnerable point of their lives,” for The New Yorker. “Dying can be long and bewildering, lonely and painful, frequently undignified, and consumed by pressing and unpredictable and constantly changing and multiplying needs,” MacFarquhar writes. “It’s a relief to have someone around who understands what’s going on and what may happen next.”
Seth Mnookin writes about being given opioids for pain relief after an emergency procedure, despite his history of a three-year addiction to heroin, in STAT. Though his medical team was made aware of his history with substance abuse, Mnookin received no counseling when he was released, and in addition to post-surgery complications, the author also had to struggle with symptoms of mild withdrawal from the painkillers prescribed by his physicians.
ICYMI: Jonathan Friedlaender writes about his struggle to find treatment options for melanoma, even ones that weren’t yet approved, in the July issue of Health Affairs.