“Where Medicine Needs Its Medication”

A Poem & Conversation with Peter Rezkalla

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.

Every Final Stroke

It tore me in two
Not knowing which to choose.
I wanted to stand out
But the risk: what I’d lose,
I cannot

’Twas my AMCAS application
And my personal inclination
To share the story of my Statement
Via stanzas and rhymes, and then payment,
Submit

But fate turned against me as I predicted it would.
Doctors warned me of what the AdComs could
Do to my whole future if they misriddled my rhythmic tongue
As an indication of frailty or that I’m “too young”
To be a Doctor,

So I did what was expected
The same old schpiel:
Five paragraphs, one essay,
No need for a new wheel
Twisting

But my conscience was stirred,
My mind in full gear.
What was wrong with art?
What was it they fear?
Humanity

Would it be a silly question or rather a confession
To say that my impression of our profession
Is that we have an obsession with healing humanity?
Yet, being told poetry “could harm” me in actuality
Is inhumane.

Is it a disability to be human amongst physicians?
Why would I be looked down upon for going against traditions?
Did I sign up to surrender to what society says I should?
It was then that I learned there are Secrets to Doctorhood.
The hidden curriculum

They are not so much secrets as they are parasitical puissances
Ideas that breed machines, turnings healers into nuisances.
They begin, do their damage, target one’s mentality,
And soon, their effects are in the realm of physicality.
Woos with the dollar,

My subject is the Humanity in Medicine
Or rather, how absent it has been.
Too long has it reigned true
That doctors are barred from the civilities of me and you.
By stigma

We expect our patients to be human, but not our Doctors.
No one would snitch, but we’re nurturing closeted monsters.
You learn it as you go along: only the smartest climb up the ladder,
So, do more research, cancel volunteering because those hours do not matter.
We deign.

We are choking our warriors before the battle is boomin’.
Yes, you are a doctor. But before that, you are human.
The one is intrinsic. The other a career.
The choice is yours. Steer clear of the veneer.
And forsake life

We need to qualify this Truth — too many lose touch with Earth
Because their minds are locked on the next surgery, the next birth,
The next godlike expectation, which they do fulfill and so, claim their title as a divine idol
With their own Bible and group of disciples, all because they restored someone’s vitals.
In exchange for

Doctors are heartless, you say?
I promise, from the deepest place in my heart,
We do not start out this way,
But this artificial system rewards science and not art, so we do what is necessary to set ourselves apart.
A heartless shell,

I’m calling you out, you demons of health.
Tricking healers to forsake leisure in exchange for wealth.
You’ve got a firm grip on the entire field, I know,
But in the name of all that is Holy, we will work to let you go.
Wishing for a redo button

Dear Audience, I cry out on behalf of the silent and pray I do not offend.
Like the childish argument: you can have more than one Best Friend.
It is not adultery to have passions besides medicine.
We all do, no matter how secret.
All we have left is the money you pay us for the sacrifices you demand we frequent.
Before we sold ourselves

We peel the skin of our humanity with the scalpels we use to save you.
Volleyball: goodbye, piano: adios, performing arts: adieu.
Numbers have come to define us more than our humanity,
So, this summer, “get published if you want a better residency.”
To hell.

When I grow up, I do not want to be a one-trick pony.
Let us prescribe that notion to antiquity.
Respect and allow us to indulge our interests as the rest of the world does
Do not force me to turn to alcohol, pride, or worse just to feel a buzz.
Dreaming of health care in healthcare.

I return to my plans for summer break:
Now, opportunities are endless, so I might learn to bake a cake, or how to animate,
Or perhaps I’ll learn to rhyme better,
Reread each last line for the hidden message in this letter.
Whatever I do is an equally precious inspiration.
And that, my Friends, is where medicine needs its medication.

Every Final Stroke
I cannot submit to be a Doctor, twisting humanity is inhumane.
The hidden curriculum woos with the dollar, by stigma, we deign
And forsake life in exchange for a heartless shell,
Wishing for a redo button before we sold ourselves to hell.
Dreaming of health care in healthcare.

A Conversation with Peter Rezkalla

On the inspiration for this piece

Truly, many things inspired this poem, but most of all, it was simply observation. I watched as classmates changed the longer we walked this journey, and in reflection, this piece was born.

On poetry

Poetry has always enraptured me and the more extravagant the rhyme, the more talented I credit the poet, so I challenged myself to not only discuss a problem in medical culture, but entertain the audience through enlightening them on the possibility that the solution is creativity and innovation.

On creative expression via YouTube

I discussed more fully in a podcast for TheHappyDoc. Essentially, I continue to seek out avenues for creative expression along this artistically-dry journey, so now, it is YouTube and Instagram (@Doctor.Disney), but before it was SnapChat, singing for patients in the hospital, directing plays, etc. It is healthy to create — those who knock it definitely have not tried it.

On misconceptions about spoken word

I think people tend to think spoken word has to be some heart wrenching testament of personal challenges, when really, every time we speak is spoken word. Your stage is the earth, your platform is your life, so speak. With this in mind, we become more thoughtful people.

How YouTube helps combat burnout

I am re-energized when people laugh or connect with my content and knowing I have the ability to influence others in a positive way only fuels my medical interactions! What really makes me happy is when folks start telling me their ideas for funny skits or YouTube videos, and you may be asking, “Why?” Well, because it means everyone is creative! Medical people also have interesting and hilarious thoughts and ideas, but they either lack the encouragement, or fear the possible repercussions for being boldly artsy, aka non-medical. Our culture brews fear of stepping out of the boundaries, and it cripples people. Our system forces people to drop everything for the sake of medicine — family, friends, birthdays, exercise, dates, hobbies, and so much more. We want to see if you are committed to the cause. It ought not be this way and we all know it. Sure, it was worse in the past. But we are still not where we need to be, and that is the problem. I hope I can be an inspiration for others to start building moments of self-fulfillment and joy in their lives as a temporary solution.

Peter Rezkalla is a medical student. He is also a Christian, son, brother, Disney fan, and YouTuber. One of his goals in life is to use medicine to serve and arts to entertain — two forms of healing humanity.

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