To put it simply: Start very small. Even smaller.

Her shoes waiting by her door, taken by the author.

Here’s your new exercise plan: put your walking shoes on and touch your front door frame every single evening.

You have been trying to do an ambitious exercise plan and failing. We’ll get there by starting here.

This is something you can do. For the first week, or maybe the first two weeks, if you get your walking shoes on and get to the door, you get to celebrate yourself. That is your goal. That’s it. You achieved it! Now that you’ve gotten your shoes on, you may decide to go further or you may not. Either way, either way…

Soon, I would be making the discovery Marcus Aurelius did. Other people cannot control how you feel.

About four years after my adoption, my mother and I were having a mini-vacation at her friend’s house and without provocation, she began telling me how horrible a person I was.

Me at summer camp

I had treated our host badly. We do not treat people this badly. We do not treat people like this. I had made our host feel very badly. It is never ok to make someone feel as bad as I had made our host feel. We were guests here and I was making our host sorry to have invited us. I was a shame and embarrassment to her. …

My arm, pre-operatively. photo by me.

A week after surgery, I removed my splint to take a shower. Now, unprotected, my wrist was made of glass.

With my splint on, I was clumsy, but invincible. I did not feel frail until I removed my splint.

The shower floor did not feel very different from the ice on the lake. My thoughts were whirring along like this: I cannot squeeze the shampoo bottle with my injured hand. It is also painful to raise that palm up to squeeze the shampoo into it with the other hand. Don’t spill the shampoo because that would make the floor slippery…

I am a natural Stoic. I was able to find many of the ideas of Stoicism on my own, by struggling to make sense of my life as a young person.

The author as a child, photo by mother

When I encountered Stoicism as an adult, I could see how closely aligned the ideas of the ancient Stoics — whose lives were unimaginably different from mine — were to those I had arrived at in my youth. I have talked with other adults who grew up in similarly difficult circumstances and have found that re-creating elements of Stoicism on one’s own happens frequently.

Here are some parts I…

photo by author

Dear Patient,
I am writing to you about coronavirus, now typically called “Covid” or “Covid 19.” Although at this time Covid appears to be contained in New Hampshire, in the weeks and months ahead, Covid appears destined to become widespread, massively disrupting the lives of everyone, sickening a large portion of the population, and threatening to kill more people at the same time than any of us have ever seen due to disease. …

John (not his real name, details changed) hates his job. He is healthy and comes in every few months to talk about getting off his anti-depressant. He thinks his boss is a jerk who makes him do demeaning things that should really be the job of the newer people on the team. He makes more than he thinks he could anywhere else because he’s been at this job a long time. Maybe, he thinks, his boss is trying to make him quit so he can be replaced with a cheaper, younger new hire. He wants to quit his job. He…

First, you have to call up your daughter to pick you up and take you to the lab. It’s hard for the nurse to find your vein. The pain from his fishing around in your arm is not nearly as bad as the pain you always have in your hip, and back, and shoulders, but it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and you cry a little bit. The phlebotomist doesn’t notice, but your daughter does.

A couple of days later, your daughter drives you and your latest bruise up to the front door of the hospital. …

Because everything around us usually works, it can be easy to forget how fragile some of the workings are. My patients see this with their bodies, as they fail, but not so obvious to them are the fragilities of the healthcare system that we doctors get to see.

Despite what the if-it-bleeds-it-leads press might have you thinking, our healthcare system is pretty good. Good however is never good enough, at least not for doctors. Med schools select people who have always aimed to be better than good. …

When I graduated from residency, I was too worried about killing my first few patients to examine the meaning of being an attending physician. An early patient, a 97-year-old retired doctor, brought it to my attention.

“Being an attending physician means you attend. When you attend me, all I want you to do is show up. You do not have to do anything. Keep the people with needles, knives, and nonsense away from me.”

We never discussed that I was his attending physician again. I was careful to do little for him besides our routine appointments. For him, the importance…

Photo by author

Dr. Ryme had been retired at least thirty years from medicine when he met me, his last pupil. I was a freshly minted doctor and he became the first teacher of my new school called “Life as an Independent Doctor.”

At our first office visit, after telling me his life story, he quizzed me, “And furthermore, Dr. Braun, you’re an attending physcian now. You are no longer a resident. Do you know what it means to be an attending physician?”

He paused. I searched frantically for something to say that might be a worthy answer.

Dr. Ryme was not the…

Mary Braun, MD

Internist. I write about what life and my patients teach me.

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