Medicine is the silent, joyful tears of a woman receiving her baby, her head falling back, tendrils of hair plastered to her skin. The intern takes over to deliver the placenta. I expect the attending to leave the room after ripping off her gloves and gown. Instead she grabs a clean towel and gently wipes the patient’s forehead with the soft tenderness of a mother. I decide that this is the kind of doctor I want to be.
Medicine is a father’s hand on his child’s back, supporting her as she stumbles forward on her walker. The hum of the PICU monitors is drowned by cheers as she celebrates her discharge after one hundred and seventeen days. Pom-poms fly in the air and her diminutive frame is almost invisible as she is surrounded by teams of people that loved her and worked to get her out. She giggles as the bubbles pop around her face. I want to live in the shared jubilation of this hallway forever.
Medicine is sitting on the bed of a girl with a complex array of symptoms that hasn’t been diagnosed. I try to distract her with toys while I ask how she’s feeling. Her pain is not waiting for a diagnosis. She silently curls her hands around the Barbie, her nails are chipped with blue polish — in the afternoon I won’t ask questions, we’ll just paint nails.
Medicine is crying with my preceptor at the first gift I ever received from a patient, a homemade oil painting of a lake. The patient expresses gratitude that I asked how she’s been taking care of herself mentally while being the primary caretaker for her medically disabled husband. I’m so glad I did not stop at hypertension and diabetes. I’m so glad I did not let the ticking hands of the clock silence us.
Medicine is the chicken and rice violently splattered on the floor of a patient whose mind has been moth-eaten by years of substance abuse after years of unresolved childhood trauma. His anger falls apart and all that’s left is despair and loneliness and fear. His voice breaks as he thanks me for listening. All I can see is a child who deserves more space and love than he had ever been given. If there had been a tray of chicken and rice in front of me, I would want to throw it too.
Medicine is holding the hands of a man whose skin is paper thin to the point of translucence. His hands don’t work anymore, the nurses are overextended, he needs to eat. I break the connection to feed him his breakfast, making peace knowing that I won’t have the time to sound like a good, organized medical student during my presentation later. Rays of sunshine strike the table, condensation drips off the carton of orange juice.
We meet eyes and smile. At that moment, I feel like the kind of doctor I wanted to be.
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.
Image courtesy of Habiba Ahmed.