Blake Farmer

In 1998, major tobacco companies reached a historic legal settlement with states that had sued them over the health care costs of smoking-related illnesses. But individual smokers have continued to sue, and to this day the tobacco industry remains tied up in hundreds of court fights with sickened smokers, or with family members who lost a loved one to cancer, heart disease, or other smoking-related illness.

There's a summer camp for kids with disabilities in Nashville that does things a little differently. Instead of accommodating the campers' physical challenges, therapists make life a bit tougher, in hopes of ultimately strengthening the kids' ability to navigate the world.

In modern medicine, the mind and body often stay on two separate tracks in terms of treatment and health insurance reimbursement. But it's hard to maintain physical health while suffering from a psychological disorder.

Chains, saws and old logging equipment litter the back field of Wendy Norris' family farm, near the county seat of Altamont, Tenn. Norris used to be part of the local timber industry, and the rusted tools are relics from a time when health woes didn't hold her back from felling hardwoods.

"I was nine months pregnant," Norris says. "Me and my husband stayed about 10 or 15 miles in the middle of nowhere, in a tent, for a long time."

The new anti-abortion tilt of the U.S. Supreme Court has inspired some states to further restrict the procedure during the first trimester of pregnancy and move to outlaw abortion entirely if Roe v. Wade ever falls. But the rush to regulate has exposed division among groups and lawmakers who consider themselves staunch abortion opponents.

When a rural community loses its hospital, health care becomes harder to come by in an instant. But a hospital closure also shocks a small town's economy. It shuts down one of its largest employers. It scares off heavy industry that needs an emergency room nearby. And in one Tennessee town, a lost hospital means lost hope of attracting more retirees.

Nursing requires hands-on training. But research has found that university curriculum often goes light on one of life's universal experiences — dying. So some colleges have gone to new lengths to make the training more meaningful.

There's a sound near the end — the death rattle. People stop swallowing. The lungs fill up. There can be involuntary moaning.

"So you get all that noise. And that's really distressing for family members," Professor Sara Camp of Nashville's Belmont University says.

Rural hospitals close when they don't have enough paying patients to care for, but they're also dinged when the same patients show up over and over again. That puts outlying medical facilities in the precarious position of needing to avoid repeat customers.

Charlotte Potts is the type of patient some hospitals try to avoid. She lives in Livingston, Tenn. — a town of 4,000, tucked between rolling hills of the Cumberland Plateau.

In the operating room, surgical masks and matching scrubs can make it hard to tell who's whom — at least for outsiders.

Patients getting wheeled in might not realize that salespeople working on commission are frequently present and sometimes even advise the clinical team during surgery.

Who are these salespeople, and why are they there?

Alarms go off so frequently in emergency rooms that doctors barely notice — until a colleague is wheeled in on a gurney, clinging to life. All of a sudden, that alarm becomes a deafening wake-up call.

For Dr. Kip Wenger, that colleague, a 33-year-old physician, was also his friend.

Wenger is regional medical director for TeamHealth, one of the country's largest emergency room staffing companies, based in Knoxville, Tenn.

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