1,217 Miles Between Us

This is part of the Medical Humanities Series on Op-Med, which showcases creative work by our members. Do you have a poem, short story, creative nonfiction or visual art piece related to medicine that you’d like to share with the community? Send it to us here.

On a screen.
A leap of faith
taken by both sides
Many have never seen
their reflection on a computer screen,
They are reassured.
She is there,
You just cannot touch her.
They talk.
Asked about what they eat,
how they shit and
how they sleep.
Asked about
crimes,
prison,
alcohol and drugs.
Passion,
intimacy,
work and
family.
They talk and
the barriers of miles fall.
Grizzlies, black bears, floods and spiders.
And ‘green cards’,
their psychiatric diagnosis
a license for medical marijuana.
Extolling the merits
of Mary Jane,
to calm shattered nerves.
In the end of the day
it is love and work.
Love and work.
Not enough of either, or too much work
1,217 miles
and yet,
Love and work
unite us
as the central theme.
40 minutes later
we part.
They marvel at the technology,
in their own ability
to open up.
To a total stranger.
Twelve hundred
seventeen
miles
away

What inspired this piece?

As part of my work as a psychiatrist, I did a stint in telepsychiatry. This is providing psychiatric care via Skype, to those in need, to individuals who do not have physicians that are easily accessible. Montana, called "Big Skype Country" in jest, is one of those places. There is a major shortage of physicians there and I was recruited to see patients via computer in an outpatient facility in Montana.

I received my license to practice medicine in Montana after a few months. My laptop was programmed to see patients and made HIPPA-compliant. I removed all of my Brett Favre and Green Bay Packer photos from the wall and replaced them with my medical diplomas to serve as a more appropriate Skype backdrop as I sat at my desk at home.

I was skeptical. Would I be able to “connect” with my patients, to recognize all the subtle nuances that are so crucial to diagnose and treat patients? As psychiatrists, we have no blood tests, procedures, or sophisticated means to make a diagnosis. We rely on self-report, on our own perceptions, and clinical judgment.

The experience was fascinating and I feel like I really made a difference. Instead of driving for three to four hours or waiting months for an appointment, patients came to me. I wrote this poem to convey my thoughts about my work there.

Anne Koplin is a board certified adult psychiatrist with over 20 years of experience. Her areas of interest include anxiety and mood disorders, sexual dysfunction, aging, and clinical trials. 

Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz

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