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'The Needle in His Arm, the Fall From Grace'

A Poem by Monisha Vasa, MD

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.

“Breathing The Air”

We sit together like this every week.
It has been almost eight years now
since life fell apart for him,
a slow and steady devastation.

Hour by hour,
we seek to understand
together, always together,
the needle in his arm,
the fall from grace,
the trust that cracked wide open
like lightning through a tree.

And so we show up,
lay out the pieces,
look at the way
a broken heart beats, until
the shame stops seeping through.

Then comes a day
like any other day.
He tells me stories
of the trip he took
to far off places
that I will likely never go.
And what he remembers most,
he says, his voice
quiet, remembering,
is the air.
How there was something different
about the air.
It was softer somehow,
like he was feeling and breathing
the atmosphere for the first time
in seven decades.
In his words,
I felt the air just as he did,
and closed my eyes, opened my lungs,
to feel it a little longer.
We have worked years
for this one moment,
I thought.
For him to notice and breathe
in a way that was full,
whole-hearted,
alive.
Finally alive.
I never knew until then that
this is how you rebuild a
life.

Monisha Vasa, MD is a board-certified General and Addiction Psychiatrist. She is in private practice in Newport Beach, California, and also teaches medical humanities and topics related to physician well-being at the UC Irvine School of Medicine. She is currently a scholar of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, and enjoys playing with words on her blog. Dr. Vasa is a mother of two children, has a house full of animals, and enjoys long-distance running and mindfulness practices when she needs a break from all of the above. Dr. Vasa is a 2018–19 Doximity Author.

Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz

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