“Before You Pulled Back the Curtain”

A Poem & Conversation with Dr. Andrew McLean

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

Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz

The Exam Room

Please return my dignity.
It’s quite the proper thing to do.
It was only a temporary loan-
When I disrobed.
When I trusted you with my secrets.
So, before you say ‘goodbye’
(If you remember to do so),
Before you pass your responsibilities
On to the nurse, the receptionist.
Please make good your oath.
Leave me at least as well as you found me;
As proud as I felt or feigned
Before you pulled back the curtain.
Cobble me together.
Palliate me, cloak me,
Wrap me up again.

First appeared in: 2016 American College of Chest Physicians. Published by Elsevier Inc. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chest.2015.12.004

What inspired this piece? Why did you choose to write about this as a poem?

Being a patient is an incredibly vulnerable experience. Physicians in particular dislike taking on the patient role, but it is necessary they do so for a couple of reasons-one, for ongoing personal care, and two, as an opportunity for maintaining empathy as a provider.

Poetry affords the ability to express feelings in a unique way, and with a particular intimacy. The setting and subject here speaks to relationship and the need for trust and understanding — poetry seemed a fitting vehicle.

How did you get into poetry? How does this relate to your medical practice?

I was living in a developing country away from my wife for much of one year and began to write her a “poem a week.” As I wrote more and read more, the poems became a bit more palatable.

Writing poetry can be cathartic. It allows one to process experiences in a different way. The Humanities and Medicine have been tied together for centuries, and every practitioner recognizes that practicing medicine is truly an art. In our academic setting, we are using the Humanities as part of our didactics on Personal Wellness in educating resident physicians.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your poetry or other creative outlets? I’ve been fortunate to have had poetry published in a number of literary and medical journals, and recently self-published a chap book of poems relating to medicine.

Image provided by Andrew McLean.

Andrew McLean, MD, MPH is Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

He obtained his medical degree from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine. He completed a psychiatry residency at the University of Wisconsin and an M.P.H. degree from the University of Minnesota. He is the recipient of a number of awards, including the UND School of Medicine Distinguished Alumnus Award, the American Psychiatric Association Bruno Lima award for outstanding contributions to Disaster Psychiatry, and teaching excellence awards. Dr. McLean previously was the Medical Director of the ND Department of Human Services. He has served on a number of clinical, administrative and regulatory boards including medical licensing and professional health programs. He has lectured internationally on pertinent behavioral and public health issues. Dr. McLean has a particular interest in working with and advocating for individuals with serious and persistent behavioral health issues. He also is interested in disaster mental health, and individual and community resilience.

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