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On Duty in the Surgery Waiting Room

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 Doximity members. Do you have a creative work related to your medical practice that you’d like to share? Send it to us here.

Walking in, I recognized the wood floor
And furniture in the room.
Having worked in that hospital for twenty years
I had been in the room many times
Attending to patients’ loved ones.

This time it was I who
Waited for the doctor,
And the news.

My beloved was having a medium-risk procedure.
Though not believing the legend
That medical families
Have more complications than others,
I still worried about the worst,
And took a seat in the corner.

A family entered,
Led by an elderly, stately man -
Irish-looking, I thought.

He was accompanied by what appeared to be
Two middle-aged daughters
And a teenage granddaughter
With numerous pierced jewelry on her face and ears.
Of the four
He seemed the most concerned.
I noticed his wedding ring.

If I were on duty, I thought,
I would approach him.
“Who is it that you’re waiting for?” I would ask.
“Tell me about her.”

Thankful not to be on duty,
I turned away.

His daughters frequently spoke to him
As they waited.
The granddaughter told of her new boyfriend,
With whom she was quite taken.
“Well, he seems like a fine fellow,”
The grandfather said.
He later changed seats and moved toward a daughter
Who was sitting near me.

After a time he turned to me
And said in an Irish brogue,
“Who is it that you’re waiting for?”
“Tell me about her.”

What was your inspiration? 

My inspiration came when the event occurred. The Irish man’s concern for my wife and I was so touching that I wrote the story immediately. However, for some reason I left the poem and forgot about it until years later a colleague reached out in regards to submitting poetry to Annals to be published. I sent the piece to them and they relayed that they read the piece in an old black armchair while doing some work at home, and were brought to tears. 

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

I began to write an essay many years ago when I was connecting the very hard work of doctors to the work of my brother-in-law, David, a farmer who had died from being overworked. After understanding my brother-in-law's work, I saw a very important connection between both types of labor. I published that essay in Annals in 1998 but didn't plan to write again until I received over 100 letters (at that time, no email!) from all over the world, which made me feel that my writing could potentially help people.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your involvement in or views on arts in medicine? 

I wrote a book that includes 50 essays and poems, Departure From the Darkness and the Cold: The Hope of Renewal for the Soul of Medicine in Patient Care. The book describes interactions with patients and clinicians manifesting the “soul of medicine.” 

Dr. Lawrence Hergott is Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Senior Scholar in Creative Writing at the University of Colorado. Before writing, Dr. Hergott was an honored cardiologist for 20 years at Kaiser Permanente in Denver, Colorado. He then spent another 17 years of patient care and writing at the University of Colorado. Dr. Hergott’s poems and essays have been published in a variety of places such as JAMA, The Expository Times at the University of Edinburgh School of Divinity,, and Healing the Hearts of Men and Gorillas. Dr. Hergott has a wondrous family as well.

This poem was previously published in Annals of Surgery.

Illustration by Diana Connolly

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