Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Two words in the patient portal

Paul Rousseau
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, United States

Distress on viewing the patient portal
Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

He lost twenty pounds from January to June. Not purposely. Still, he was pleased; at seventy-nine, he looked svelte, and younger. He lost another twelve pounds from July to December. His lips grimaced. He was a stick figure, his bones rising like periscopes amidst clumps of sallow skin.


He logged into the hospital’s patient portal.

CT of abdomen: Large discreet mass in the descending colon suggestive of malignancy. Numerous lesions in the liver, likely metastases. PET: Widely metastatic disease.

He was an unschooled man; he searched Google. Malignancy: the state or presence of a malignant tumor; cancer. Metastases: the spread of a disease, such as cancer, from the initial site of disease to another part of the body. He felt a pounding in his temples. He rubbed his eyes and read again. Malignancy. Metastases. Wretched words laden with terror. A ragged sob rolled up from his belly. The world was no longer what it was.

PAUL ROUSSEAU, MD, is a semi-retired physician and writer published in The Healing Muse, Blood and Thunder, Hektoen International, Intima. A Journal of Narrative Medicine, The Human Touch, Pulse. Voices From the Heart of Medicine, Please See Me, Months To Years, (mac)ro(mic), 433 Literary Magazine, Sunspot Literary Magazine, The Examined Life, Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review, Tendon, and others. Nominated for The Best Small Fictions anthology from Sonder Press, 2020. Twitter: @ScribbledCoffee

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