Takotsubo

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.

Modeling the heart as a piston, machine-like and
roaring with anger
and love— dark and tumultuous
as our morning sail in dawn water,
our breath panting in shallow and fierce echo
of each passing wave, slap
slapping the waxed wooden surface of our vessel
like blood filling contoured cardiac chambers.

At the apex of the heart, there is a sudden stillness,
and pain profound as a shard of glass scraping the skin of
soft and delicately calloused palms.

Sorrow stuns
heart muscle into silence,
blood pooling like viscous molasses
in unknown crevices, organs
ravenous for answers
and oxygen.

Proof the physiologic marks loss
as malady, an erosional scar detectible in echo-
cardiogram and electrical impulse charted
beat by beat

in tune with our lapping oars.

I wonder how I have not loved
enough for my heart to give out.

What inspired this piece?

My poem was inspired by a patient who experienced Takotsubo cardiomyopathy after his wife's diagnosis with Alzheimer's Disease. I spent a lot of time talking to this man about his love for her, and how he came to experience what is commonly known as "broken heart syndrome." I was profoundly touched by his story. 

Why did you choose poetry as your form?

I chose poetry for this topic because I wanted to explore the relationship between human emotion and physiology. I felt that poetry, which is the most distilled form of story-telling, was the best medium in which to examine and portray the intensity of this medical experience.

How long have you been writing poetry? How did you get into it? How does it relate to your medical education/practice?

I have written poetry for years! My undergraduate degree is in creative writing and biology, so the two have always been intimately related. During my third year of medical school, I wrote a poetry chapbook, which was published by a small press during my fourth year. It is available directly from the publisher here

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

I recently published a video op-doc with NBC about my experience with mental health in medical school. I am always looking for creative ways to bring medicine to the masses, and to bring humanities to medicine. The more we examine ourselves and our profession with compassion, the better we can serve each other and our patients. 

Mariam Gomaa is a 2018-19 Doximity Author and the author of Between the Shadow & the Soul (Backbone Press). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, TIME, NBC, BBC, xoJane, Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, and more. She is an alumna of Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Northwestern University. This summer she will start her Ob/Gyn residency at Howard University Hospital. 

Image by VikaSuh / Shutterstock

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