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.
I do not know why my tired legs brought me here,
To sit alone, crucifix to the left, menorah to my right.
Quiet pervades this space, so quiet I can finally attend
To the worried cares of my own heart.
A prayer book
Opens casually on an oak table:
Patient names I never learned well,
Forgotten before I could even remember.
Please Lord, heal her. Make her well.
Dear God, save my father. Bless him.
Entreaties all, pleas for what I wish I could provide,
Aware I cannot provide alone. p>
What was your inspiration for this poem?
Our hospital chapel is just down the hall from the ED. I stepped into the chapel after a shift and was struck by the calm and peaceful atmosphere. I was alone, exhausted from the shift, and probably in a reflective mood. I noticed an open book on the table, where family members wrote prayers for their loved ones. They were likely praying for the very patients I had just taken care of and I felt the tremendous responsibility given to all of us doctors.
How long have you been writing poetry? What got you started?
I have been trying to write poetry pretty much since I could read and write, going back to elementary school. It's just been a part of me, inexplicable like most interests. The inspiration and the effort waxes and wanes, especially due to work and family demands. In medical school, I founded a literary magazine, "Body Electric." I also founded the medical humanities section, "Change of Shift," in Annals of Emergency Medicine. My poetry has appeared in various journals, including The Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, and several anthologies.
What are your thoughts on the intersection of arts in medicine?
The arts, such as writing, provide an invaluable outlet for those of us in medicine. We get to witness the range of human drama, and by writing or other expressions, we get to translate those experiences into something that tries to be art. The medical humanities enrich us, give perspective, sometimes inspiration, and usually some comfort.
Bonnie Salomon, MD, practices emergency medicine at Northwestern Medicine in the Chicago area.
Illustration by April Brust