Apr 25th, 2015
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The Disease of the Little PaperToward the end of his life, my father tried to engage me in conversations about our shared profession. He presided over these sessions from an armchair, his legs tucked under a blanket against the air-conditioned Florida chill to which he'd retired."Seen any great cases?" he'd ask. This question set my teeth on edge. Our relationship hadn't been easy when I was young, and even well into middle age as I was then, it didn't take much to fan the embers of my adolescent anger.I'd explain - again - that I was a general internist, not a specialist as he had been, and derived my professional satisfaction from long and close relationships with patients and not from making obscure diagnoses.He would give me a pitying look and shrug. Then he'd tell me some anecdote in which I heard him imply that he was more resourceful, wiser, and more devoted to and beloved by his patients than I could ever hope to be. About how, during the war, he recycled penicillin from patients' urine and injected it into other patients. About how, during a housekeepers' strike, he mopped floors and folded sheets and towels in the laundry room of the hospital where he was chief of staff.The reminiscence I bristled at most, though, was about ladies - always they were "ladies" - with something he calledla maladie du petit papier: the disease of the little paper. They would come to his office and withdraw from their purses tiny pieces of paper that unfolded into large sheets on w

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