Care is Complicated

I try to bring my whole self
to the work that I do.
But I can’t just say,
“My sister has cancer.” 

It feels odd holding back what’s on  my mind all the
time. It’s crazy how I’m used to things now, like a pandemic,  and my sister being in bed all day, sick. 

Just months ago, no masks;
she was a healthy 35-year-old.
How do such shocking things,
all-of-a-sudden, become normal? 

I’m doing the best I can do.
If I could, I’d ask
for a little less sad
to get used to– 

Meanwhile, I’m grateful
to be able to care for others
the way I’d care for my sister,  if I could.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

Her sister was healthy the last time they were together—just five short months ago. But shortly after, her sister was diagnosed with cancer, and her health had declined quickly. Though she was a medical student, this was the first time she had encountered serious illness in her own family. “There is so much I need to attend to right now, and I can’t be there for her as much as I’d like to be. Instead, I have to do what I have to do,” she said. She told me that she struggled to hold the many tensions that were present in her day-to-day reality. “As a medical school student, this is always on my mind, and it feels odd to be constantly holding back. We say we want to humanize healthcare, but at the same time there is pressure to be this paragon of perfection,” she said. Her deep care for others was evident, as was the grief and pain she felt having to sacrifice so much in her personal life. “The struggle and juxtaposition is complicated,” she said. “I’m trying to balance my identity. All I can do right now is care for others how I’d want someone to care for my sister.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

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