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Chocolate Milk

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.

Chocolate Milk

“Can I have some chocolate milk?”
We shrugged and consoled —
“Perhaps tomorrow”
Or another day
When his body recovered
From its current state
Of utter disarray

When a tube was placed
Down his throat
We did not know
His plea for milk
Would be his final note

At first he gave us
A sliver of hope
As a roaring machine
Struggled to keep him afloat

Slowly then quickly
His body gave way
To this monstrous disease
Putting us all at unease

Cradled in Mom’s lap
We circled around him
His body, limp
His cracked, dry lips —
And then we were reminded

So with the tip of a syringe
We gave him a sip
Of his dying wish:
Some cold chocolate milk

An interview with the poet

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

This piece was inspired by the first time I saw a patient's heart stop beating in front of me. His body was ravaged by both cancer and pneumonia that caused him to deteriorate very quickly. I remember when he was struggling to breathe, he would keep telling his family how thirsty he was. His favorite drink was chocolate milk. I was crushed that we couldn't let him have a sip of milk because of his condition, and I was crushed when he was eventually intubated and never recovered to be able to drink the chocolate milk he yearned for. When we knew he was beyond recovery and in his last moments of life, we were reminded of the last thing he had asked for when he was awake. His family gave him his dying wish by giving him drops of cold chocolate milk from a syringe. I will never forget how tragic his passing was and how much solace it gave his family to be able to put drops of his favorite drink in his mouth before his heart stopped beating.

How long have you been writing poetry? What got you started?

I started writing poetry in residency when I began encountering a lot of death. Poetry helped me cope with their passing and comfort me in a way that nothing else could.

Why did you choose poetry? What interests you about it?

Poetry is an amazing canvas for painting the heavy emotions around witnessing a death. I would describe this poem as choppy, which reflects the rushed and stepwise decline of this patient and the desperation to prevent his ultimate demise. The peaceful ending and symbol of chocolate milk is a reminder that as we take great lengths to keep a person's body alive, we should never forget the person that lies within it and to honor the details that make us all unique and human.

How does this submission relate to your medical practice?

Poetry has become a natural outlet of coping and expression after witnessing or being involved in the care of a patient who died. I find that I often start writing the poem in my head as I see a life drift away before my eyes or in the moments immediately after their passing. Poetry is a way of honoring the lives of my patients in permanent writing, so that they are never truly gone or forgotten.

Sara is a second-year pediatrics resident at Seattle Children's Hospital. She is an aspiring neonatologist.

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