'I Try to Remember the Breath I Was Born With'

A Poem by Samantha Williams

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.

Tiles

In the dark of early morning, I walk through gliding doors to bright, white lights reflected on tile floor. Time to dive in. Tile after tile, I make rounds. Hand sanitizer, stethoscope, quick feet on floor, hand sanitizer, stethoscope, quick feet on floor. After rounds, I arrive in OR 18, where the floor continues up to the ceiling. Why are there tiled walls? I glance up at their glassy, porcelain curvature for just a moment before heading out to scrub. 3 percent PCMX from fingernails to elbow. Sterile technique, technique, technique. Incision, trocar, warm red on tile. Warm red on tile. Slow and steady, I try to remember the breath I was born with. Then on to the next. The next pair of gloves, the next stretcher, the next scrub. Tile after tile. In the evening, I’m back through gliding doors to the dark. In the quiet of night, I take a deep breath. I’m exhausted but I head to my community pool. I dip my feet in and lower into my own reflection. Comfort in clear, warm water. Not sterile, not cold or burning hot. Glide, two, three, four, breathe. The breath I was born with, without effort. Pool tiles guide from below as the water throws light in various directions. I reflect on my patients from the day. I remember Cynthia, whose hand I held through anesthesia. I remember Joselin, who was so excited to tell me about her visitors. I remember Mark, who thanked me personally for being part of his journey. This reflection gives me energy to continue on. Tiles beneath me, I reflect on the light.

On the Inspiration for This Piece

I was on my third-year surgical Ob/Gyn clerkship when I wrote this piece. I am most interested in Primary Care and throughout this rotation I found myself missing the patient-physician rapport afforded by outpatient medicine. This piece is about finding that connection despite the demands of a surgical specialty.

On Using Free Verse

I find free verse poetry to be one of the most liberating forms of expression. There are no rules and there is always room for growth and reflection. I have been writing since I was in elementary school. I use it as a form of expression, freedom, and release. Writing helps me both to reflect and also to be more present when I am not writing. It allows me to make sense of life and medicine.

Samantha Williams grew up in the Great Lakes state of Michigan and attended the University of Michigan for undergrad, where she studied Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience and competed on the waterski team. Samantha is now in her fourth year at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Throughout medical school, she has become increasingly passionate about the application of psychology to the practice of medicine and is especially interested in preventative healthcare. All names and identifying information have been modified to protect patient privacy.

Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz

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