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.
What was your inspiration? How does this submission relate to your medical practice?
This submission is a sketch of my own experience of being hospitalized for nine days and needing a chest tube for recurrent pneumothorax. Those days in the hospital were long and lonely (it was during the pandemic phase when visiting hours were limited). Uncertainty loomed large. Every morning I prayed to be discharged. I longed to be home and drink herbal tea with rooibos and berries on my patio surrounded by pink bougainvillea. But at rounds, the only reply I got was, "Not today." Vital signs measured four times an hour and daily chest X-rays became my routine. Some days, as a bonus I got two X-rays. My only solace was the slow walk twice a day, carrying my chest tube by my side, enjoying and studying the art on walls of the hallway. This sketch depicts that scene. Through my career as a cardiologist, I had several patients complain about pleuritic chest pain. I learned the exact definition more than 17 years ago in medical school — sharp, stabbing pain on inspiration. However, to feel it, to go on breathing when every breath hurts, needed a courage from deep within. I found a new respect for my patients needing chest tubes and also my courage from reminiscence of their stories as I ambled along the hallway.
Why did you choose this medium? What interests you about it?
Visual art is a powerful mode of communication, about a specific moment. A picture is worth a thousand words. I am still an amateur artist, but I am drawn to capturing these emotional moments through art.
How long have you been doing this activity? What got you started?
I have been sketching on and off for about a year. I am still learning. One day I was walking in the ER Trauma Bay and saw a women standing next to her husband's dead body, silently crying. All medical personnel left after the unsuccessful code. Every day in medicine is filled with so many moments of grace, compassion, pain, and humility. I sketched this scene and it got published in Pulse in September 2020. Sketching helps me in stepping back from the chaos of medicine, and connecting with its humanistic core.
Jaya Mallidi, MD is a cardiologist in Santa Rose, CA who writes opinion pieces for Medscape and aims to use patient stories and personal experiences to highlight problems of modern day medicine.