Medicine from the heart . . . Katharine Barnard, MD

September 01, 2011

Each Thursday, the Daily Voice showcases selected Thursday Morning Memos, reflective essays about clinical experiences written by faculty, alumni, residents and students of the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health and, occasionally, contributors from other departments. Thursday Morning Memos is UMass Medical School’s homegrown version of narrative medicine, in which the authors process their experiences through writing. To learn more, visit:

UMass Medical School alumna Katharine Barnard, MD, now medical director for Plumley Village Health Services in Worcester, offers a success story that is more about the patient and her family than about what Katharine offered her. The success is also that a family doctor takes the time to reflect how amazing her patient's family is. –Hugh Silk, MD



Delivering Rosie

Sometimes there are patients whose stories are more memorable than others, whose narrative seems particularly beautiful or poignant.

Ellie and Brian show me the meaning of a “created family.” At first glance they seem an unlikely pair: the shy, thin, blonde girl who hides her teeth when she smiles, and the gregarious, stocky black man who accompanies her. Yet both have a certain seriousness about them; both seem mature beyond their years. Brian describes them as being soul mates. “We are the same, me and Ellie; we understand each other.”

Brian is the child of an adopted immigrant father and a Southern black mother. He was raised by his grandmother in the South. They were uprooted by Hurricane Katrina, and moved to Oklahoma, then Illinois, and from there to Worcester with his Dominican friend Alex. His mom is here in Worcester, and they have a relationship mostly based on food—collards and fried chicken and “rice bread” (made with plantains and bananas, not rice)—and music. He sings and plays music whenever he’s not at work. He sang to the baby in Ellie’s belly. He thinks she likes Alicia Keyes the best.

Ellie is ethnically Irish and Polish, though her family has been in this area for generations. She was raised by her grandparents in a small town near Worcester. They aren’t around much anymore—since they retired, they spend winters in Florida and summers on the Cape. Ellie’s aunt is here, though, and now, of course, she has her own family: Brian and the baby.

The night before baby Rosie was born, Brian had a dream: Rosie was standing in a rural field, in a white dress, with a cloud over her head. She looked “like a beautiful white woman, with biracial features. She was a real live angel.” The next day she was born, pink skin that’s darker around the edges, with almond-shaped dark eyes and full sweet lips and curly dark hair—and an angel’s kiss on her forehead. She sat quietly in Brian’s arms, wide-open eyes scanning his face, hearing his voice sing quiet hymns of thanksgiving.

As I look at little Rosie, bathed in the absolute love of her parents, I think: This child’s story is like a many-colored quilt. Where are you from, little girl? Answering with the name of a city would seem so incomplete. The true answer is so deep and rich, it takes time to tell that tale—time we usually don’t have with our patients. Looking at her in her father's arms, I think it would seem best to say, "I am my mother’s daughter and my father’s son, I am loved, I am here, I am myself."