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An American X-Ray

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.

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.

It had been a week since Kafa had fallen on her arm
She was cooking maqlouba in the kitchen when she slipped
Her arm smacking against the hard-tiled floor
All of a sudden, she heard a crack
It was like her elbow had popped out of place
Bending it felt funny, like it was something
She wasn’t supposed to do
“Ya Rab! Oh God!” she cried out in pain, embracing her throbbing arm
The next day, she went to the Phoenix doctor
The doctor took one look at her blue, swollen elbow and wrote up orders for her to get an X-ray
She undressed herself, wearing a light robe that the nurse had given her
She stepped into the X-ray room, awaiting the technician
Her heart beating rapidly at the thought
Of being naked for too long
What if someone who wasn’t supposed to be here
Came in and saw her like this?
A man suddenly appeared, declaring that he was the X-ray technician
He was holding a lead vest to drape over her
And boldly stated that he would position her arm
Kafa jumped
How shameful it is to have her body exposed
And touched by this man
It was against her beliefs
If she wore a hijab and fully covered herself in clothes around men
How could she let a man even get near her and touch her?
“No man, please!” Kafa uttered in her limited English, her face
panic stricken and scared
The technician looked taken aback
His brows furrowed as his features morphed to take on
The face of an angry man
“Well I’m the only one here so I have to do it,” he said sternly
“No!” Kafa bellowed, stepping away from the technician
Who she felt began to look at her spitefully
As if she was a child with unreasonable demands
Annoyed, he stomped out
Muttering something under his breath
And then there was silence in the room
Kafa took a deep breath
How hurt she felt that the man did not respect her
In responding the way he had
Many people she had met in American were kind and compassionate
But there were some, like this man, who weren’t
Who judged her for way of life and beliefs
Who didn’t seem to care
Kafa dressed herself and stepped out.
Rescheduled the appointment for a week later, despite her aching arm.
Made sure a female technician would be there for her.
She’d rather suffer a week more of pain
Than compromise on her beliefs
For this was the proud woman Kafa was and would be
No matter where she lived

What was your inspiration? Did other creative works, if any, influence your creation of this piece?

My inspiration was the Syrian refugee women I've worked with and from whom, over time, l have learned of their mental health, burdens, and experiences. I want the opportunity to be able to share those experiences with health care providers. This piece is a portion of a larger project that shares these experiences.

Why did you choose this medium? What interests you about it?

Medical humanities is a wonderful way to express one's thoughts, experiences, and ideas in a way that may engender empathy and understanding. This is why I chose this medium.

How long have you been doing this activity? What got you started?

I have worked closely with Syrian refugee women over the years. While in college, I studied abroad in Jordan where I had the opportunity to research depression and suicidal ideation among Syrian refugee women resettled in Jordanian host communities. That became the basis of my anthropology thesis as an undergraduate at Brown University, in which I wrote about the non-biomedical, individual therapuetic processes of the Syrian refugee women I interviewed. I decided I wanted to continue my work with Syrian refugee women in order to help others understand their mental health burden and experiences, especially healthcare providers. Hence, I decided to embark on this medical humanities project in medical school.

Heba Haleem is a third year medical student at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Her interests include medical humanities, medical anthropology, and refugee health.

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