“My First Patient Is My Doctor”

A Poem by Pratibha Anand

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.

Image: Benjavisa Ruangvaree/Shutterstock

My First Patient

My first patient
Is dead on arrival.

Face down
Gluteus maximus
Exposed
Like my own heart
With its premature ventricular contractions
Like the lessons in my life
That I seem to have skipped
About what it means to live
To Die

To be caught in the midst of
What is no longer
While I still Am
Becoming
More comfortable with something for which
Adaptation is wrong

Yet I feel myself growing numb
Desensitized
Like the prickling sensation
Of the phenols on my
Naked
Hands
That has left me insensate
To my initial dis-ease

I am now diseased
Feeling trapped conflicted confusion
Like my lungs that can’t quite seem
To fill themselves
To rid themselves from the
Feeling
That there isn’t enough air
Enough life
Enough time
To be free from the ribs that cage them within

The first cut
Is an incision into my Self
It cleaves my shame and desperation
Bringing awe and humility to the surface
As I grapple with my own discomfort
With my mortality
About Death
Per se
I find myself talking to her
Telling her my story
My fears, my doubts,
My hopes, my dreams
Asking her about hers
Waiting for the responses that are
Not heard
But felt

My first patient is my doctor.
She heals me.

A Conversation with Pratibha

On the inspiration for the piece

I was inspired to write this piece shortly after my first anatomy cadaver dissection lab. My medical school (the University of Colorado School of Medicine) has a strong humanities curriculum that complements our basic science and clinical courses. As such, we were encouraged to reflect upon the ways in which our cadavers were also our teachers.

On poetry and medicine

I have been deeply passionate about poetry for as long as I can remember. Poetry has the ability to cut straight to my core in a way that eludes the intellectualization and deliberation that prose demands. I read and write poetry every week as a means to reflect, connect, and grow.

Though the sciences are justifiably emphasized in medicine, both health and healing are just as much art as they are science. An emphasis on the humanities allows physicians to cultivate patience, empathy, compassion, and resilience — all of which are critically important in an age of ever-increasing burnout and strained provider-patient relationships.

Pratibha Anand is a 2022 MD candidate at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Outside of school, Pratibha is a passionate travel enthusiast who holds a deep commitment to service. She speaks both Spanish and French and enjoys hiking mountains, yoga, SCUBA diving, and attending local concerts and theater productions. Stay up to date with Pratibha’s writing here and here.

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