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.
"Inside the Mind of a Newborn"
I stood in a room of incubators.
Nesting gently were 17 newborn babies in the care of the pediatric team. For some, this is how life begins: in a NICU with the view of a nearby park. The air was laden with both excitement and anxiety, as tiny arms and legs wiggled their way to wellness. This was also the time where these babies were learning to distinguish the external world from the internal world. As they took their first few blinks, welcoming a surge of light onto the retina, an unknown reality appears for which they have no words available to describe. This newborn mind is home to a silent inner voice — a truly rare state that we almost never return to.
In this room, we meticulously monitored the beginning of life. Each vital organ was triple-checked and each milestone was documented. Their adjustment to the outside world involved a change in their entire cardiac circulation and careful adjustments to higher oxygen levels carried on their fetal hemoglobin. As they slept soundly in bright colored bonnets and blankets, they were actually learning the nuances of how to regulate body temperature and metabolize bilirubin in order to avoid turning yellow! With every sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch, they were on the task of forming new synaptic connections with life on the outside.
In addition to these physiological changes, another thing was wildly alive in the room for which I had no instruments to measure. I was standing in the midst of the gloriously invisible development of newborn minds. Truly, no one remembers this time of no language and no labels. A state of mind in which everything was perceived through the naked senses with no reference point or past experience. A time when the only two emotions were pleasure and pain — incited by suckling at our mother’s breast or the pinch of our first heel prick.
I was witnessing a rare transition. In this room were 17 new pairs of curious eyes — seventeen minds that will come to learn our world. With their efforts to survive, their silent observatory will soon be populated with vocabulary. These newborn minds were at a point of no return, thrusting forward in time and experience. They touched the world head-on with the naivety of pure exploration. They were not yet afforded the skill of making complex conclusions or opinions. With their eager eyes and hands, their current tools were observation and feeling — our first tools.
Here, I saw perhaps our most simple and most raw state as humans. A room full of possibility. Before we were taught how things work, what to do, or who to be, we all sat in spontaneity and vulnerability. With subtle bravery, we welcomed the full force of the world around us. In this room of tiny incubators I was greatly reminded of our first major task: the natural propensity to the open-minded exploration of life.
An Interview With the Author
How does this submission relate to your medical practice?
This is a reflective writing piece written during my NICU elective rotation. As a future physician, I see the importance of self-reflection and incorporating our insights into the human story that we all experience. In this piece, I highlight an important human instinct that drives our life, medicine, and science: our curiosity to explore.
What was your inspiration? Did other creative works, if any, influence your creation of this piece?
My inspiration for this piece came from the bravery and resilience of the newborns in the NICU which I was grateful to learn from as a medical student. I am very curious about caring for this patient population as it is unlike other fields of medicine with having to adjust to neonatal physiology and the development of premature babies. All throughout this rotation, I could not stop thinking about their natural persistence to adjust to life and the inspiration we can all gather from their perseverance.
Why did you choose reflective writing? What interests you about it?
I chose to write a reflective writing piece because I truly wanted to dive into the meaning-making aspect that comes from such pieces. It has allowed me to not only share facts about the events that transpired but also to express deeper thoughts about how this experience can have a wider adaptation. In this piece, I was able to explore my logical, creative, and philosophical ideas about such a crucial starting point for every human being: the transition from the womb to the world. I wanted to take a moment to put into words the insights we can gather from our curiosity to explore with the hope that it can inspire us to persevere.
How long have you been writing? What got you started?
I have been writing creative essays and poetry for the past six years. My writing journey began with sharing poetry amongst friends and I loved the feeling of finding new perspectives about things we might have overlooked in our daily experiences. This practice was part of my reflective journaling practice in medical school and I still continue to do this today. In my writing, I like merging multi-disciplinary perspectives and pondering on why we do what we do, whether that is in medicine or human behavior, or in nature. I kept alive my passion for writing and was able to create a poetry collection and dozens of essays centered around the theme of the human experience and well-being.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your involvement in or views on arts in medicine?
Arts in medicine allow us to deeply merge insights about our humanity and the study of human mechanics. I have always viewed medicine as both science and art. In our day-to-day profession, the practice of medicine overlaps with other cross-disciplinary aspects such as social sciences, psychology, natural sciences, and mathematics, so, art is no exception. As creative and emotional beings, I think that we naturally try to find outlets that go beyond our analytical sciences to explore the poetic, artistic, and philosophical sides of ourselves. This adds new meaning and depth to our experiences. It also allows us the chance to reflect and change which is necessary for improving pre-existing systems. Health care workers come face-to-face with human emotion, struggle, pain, life, death, resilience, and scientific exploration. Thus, it is so important to create space for clinicians to creatively express themselves and share beyond academic pursuits.
Judaja Prescott is a fourth-year medical student at St. George's University completing her clerkships in New York. She is from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Judaja's interests include medical humanities, academic medicine, and exploring integrative medicine. Outside of medicine, Judaja enjoys singing, playing the violin and ukulele, writing poetry, and finding the nearest beach.
Illustration by April Brust