Off the Shelf
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Number 28

I approached you as a babbling child, needing to learn to speak,
my hope was to gain proficiency, to become fluent in this language.
You, my teacher lay before me covered in plastic, sterile and silent.
On occasion I’d lean in and listen, too afraid to tarnish, offend or misstep.

It was week two; we had already spent dozens of hours together.
Brave students deftly wielded scalpels around me.
I, more comfortable holding chalk, a book, an atlas
tinkering away with vocab words and verb conjugation.

Today was somehow different; maybe the intimacy of uncovering your mouth,
maybe the prickly stubble on your chin too similar to my own.
Did your partner complain of the way it tickled, and stung their upper lip?
As cold blade slid into your neck, I expected you to let out a muffled foreign protest,
a quiet indecipherable prayer.

As they peeled the toughened leather from your cheeks,
your viscera exposed and chest open,
I stood close and realized to my astonishment,
that although separated by a few layers of plastic and latex that your hand was in mine.

My response? Not shock, or embarrassment,
but a relieved laugh, my attempt at a humble tribute to our shared humanity.
I realized then that what I was struggling to articulate,
was something you would have understood completely.

Joshua Calvert Joshua Calvert (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

University of Washington School of Medicine

I am a 4th year medical student at UWSOM, applying into Urology. When I am not patiently waiting to suture at the end of the case, I am wrestling with my two little boys or binge watching Netfilx.