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.
The angel of death harkens me towards heaven, its voice beckoning me forth for eternal life
My corpus withers away, pestilence-afflicted body, unable to sustain my breath
Ties connected to my life on this earthly abode. Kith and kin, land and foal.
How can I break the bonds; my heart dreads the mere thought.
Here I am, a disciple of Hippocrates, holding forth the staff of medicine with all its cures
Many a disease and affliction I have cured and can cure
My chest of medicine is bare of elixirs to cure your ailment
My instruments can sustain your life for a few more moons but not any longer
I am no god to replenish your body and soul, rejuvenate it again
All I have to offer is my advice and empathy. This, your life and legacy
Speak to your kin, see your pain through their eyes
Will this be the memory you want to leave for them to remember
Oh worldly bearer of the caduceus, your staff does not bear the magic to heal me
My mind is made up — I do not aspire for any elixir nor instrument
My soul is ready to leave my body embraced in the bosom of my kin
I leave my gratitude as my offering to you, St. Peter waits for me.
What was your inspiration? Did other creative works, if any, influence your creation of this piece?
This poem was inspired by a patient with advanced pulmonary fibrosis. She was under my care for a couple of years and succumbed to acute exacerbation of her interstitial lung disease. She decided to pursue comfort care as lung transplantation was not an option due to medical reasons. I was struck by the courage and love she had for her family. She opted for comfort care because she did not want to prolong the emotional pain of her family by pursuing aggressive medical treatments with a high chance of failure. She passed away in the hospital room in the arms of her husband. The memory of that encounter is imprinted on my psyche. As a clinician, it made me realize that it is not the treatments I can offer the time I spend with my patients at the bedside listening to their struggles with both success and failure is the most meaningful.
How long have you been doing this activity? What got you started?
Three years from now, I faced a serious mental health challenge. I was finding work challenging and was on the cusp of forsaking my career. One of my mentors gave me the suggestion to start writing about what I experienced as a healing exercise. Poetry found me, and here I am. Expressing myself in words, playing with them, imbuing them with emotions has healed the healer.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your involvement in or views on arts in medicine?
Medicine is a science, and the practice of medicine is an art. The implicit compact is interpersonal and social interaction. The humanities help us tap into the human side of the profession, and I highly encourage my students to reflect upon their professional interactions as a physician. We need to express those insights in any medium of choice rather than negatively internalizing these emotional conflicts. From my experience, this will bring humanity back into the profession and help the physician cope with the challenges of the medical profession.
Why did you choose this medium? What interests you about it?
Poetry has become a tool for me to express myself. I find it cathartic and has helped me recover from the professional burnout I started experiencing a few years back.
How does this submission relate to your medical practice?
My expertise is advanced lung diseases like interstitial lung disease. My practice philosophy is in the comprehensive care of these challenging patients. We focus on palliative care when we have explored all known medical and surgical options. As a physician, the care provided at the end of life is both immensely challenging and gratifying.
Dr. Soma Jyothula is an academic physician specialized in advanced lung disease and lung transplantation.