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Student JAMA
January 7, 2004

Living With the Patient

JAMA. 2004;291(1):123. doi:10.1001/jama.291.1.123

His thick cough shook me out of dreams and I tossed over, still aroused from these sounds as common to me as creaking floors or running water. He was more of a lurking shadow or some sullen, angry ghost than he was a breathing life. His face was hollowed and gray. And with each waking cough, I wondered if this was indeed his last.

We woke each morning the same. My long hair matted, I passed him, clenching my bathrobe to my chest. I brought my toothbrush from its hiding place, an assurance that he hadn't borrowed it while I slept (a precaution taken after I found my last toothbrush wet and yellowed just days after he'd moved in). Edging past a feces-stained toilet, I stepped into the shower. I kicked the lump of gray hair out of the drain and, using my toe, slid it up the bathtub wall. Later I slipped past him, hoping he wouldn't attempt his idea of small talk, a barrage of accusations toward women or his contempt for doctors. I grabbed my cereal and milk and retreated to the "office," a room consisting of a table and boxes stacked against the wall, my personal belongings stored and anxiously awaiting our departure.

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