Off the Shelf, Poetry Thursdays
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Shortcomings of a Sanctuary


In the hospital lobby, three police officers
surrounded a woman in an oversized, white T-shirt,
sitting in a corner chair that nearly swallowed her whole,
enveloping her in its dull, floral pattern.

She says adamantly, sternly,
“I can’t go back outside. 
No, you don’t understand!
I’m pregnant and if I stay outside, 
I will have a seizure.”

A pregnant woman seeking refuge 
in a temperature-controlled hospital
from 104 degrees of scorching wrath.

In my naiveté I think,
whatever happened to this being a
sanctuary?

Imagine:
Mother’s hair-raising, ictal cries.
Mothers’s grinding teeth, like a screeching car.
Mother’s nystagmic gaze, with vibrating eyes.
Mother’s neck contorted in inconceivable ways.

Fetus’s struggled movements for oxygen.
Fetus’s cocooned jostling.
As Mother’s limbs are hurled in different directions,
Mother’s brain harmonizes her neuronal activity.
The irony.

When I leave the hospital, I see her across the street, 
sitting in shade.
Nature’s sanctuary, 
of sorts.

And this is why they say
clinical care
only accounts for

20%

of health outcomes.

The other 80% of health factors? 
Obscured behind a veil unless we
earnestly 
try to look above, 
below, 
through, 
and across the veil, 
detangle the complexity of the 80%,
and welcome the humility this breeds.


Poetry Thursdays is an initiative that highlights poems by medical students. If you are interested in contributing or would like to learn more, please contact our editors.


Tulsi Patel (1 Posts)

Tulsi Patel is a second year medical student in the MD/MPH program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. She graduated from Columbia University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in neuroscience and behavior. She loves listening to podcasts, visiting art museums, reading poetry, hiking, and running outdoors. Tulsi is excited to explore pediatrics and internal medicine while centering health equity by applying her public health degree, narrative medicine, and humanism in medicine.