I knew you were a champion,
though I never saw you win,
by the precision in your choices
and your knowing, tired grin.
I knew you were a friend,
though we never said the word,
by your soothing presence
and your open, helping hand.
I knew you were a healer,
though the sickness became worse,
because you left me in better spirit
than when I came before.
I knew these days were numbered,
though you never rushed my words.
Your patience slowly simmered
away my fear of tomorrow.
The souvenirs of my pain,
I learned to hold like trophies,
to replace the pressing weakness
with a blessed story.
The survivor is the victor,
the winner from within.
I count my days like money,
bewildered with new gains.
In my relief you left me, running,
to help the next in line.
We never see you win
since your race never ends.
Author’s note: This poem was inspired by a series of case wrap-ups at my school, where medical students observe a physician-patient interaction, with the goal of learning about a disease and the patient’s experience. To the observer, it would appear that the physician is a champion: experienced, well-educated and aiming to win against the disease.
However, the doctor’s finish line is always pushed farther back each time he or she nears it, with new patients needing attention, an ever growing mass of medical knowledge to learn and a constant drive to improve. The real winners, who have the privilege of celebrating an end to their race, are our patients. They may run with us, but suffer greatly for it. We can only hope to lift them up, carry them across the finish line into health, and then charge on towards our next challenge.