I felt implicated. I was there, as an observer,
but that didn’t absolve me of responsibility.
She had left the room just minutes before
her baby needed to be intubated. We were
a large team of doctors. All of us were White.
Mom and baby were Black. When she returned,
it was chaos. She begged the doctors to stop.
She was scared. There wasn’t time to explain;
it was a life-saving procedure. But we’d failed
to build enough trust before the crisis came.
I watched her step backward, reach
for her phone, then start to record.
She was told, but refused, to stop. I observed.
I was also being observed. Captured, in time.
On camera. I wondered if it was an act of last
resort? Did she feel, otherwise, powerless?
Was I perpetuating violence, in a real way,
with my presence (knowingly or unknowingly)?
These questions have traveled with me. For valid
reasons, like privacy and protection, most don’t
get to see what healthcare in America looks like
first-hand. I wonder what they’d see, if they did?
That day left me unsettled. I’d never felt implicated.
Did she still feel unsettled? Has she ever … not?
Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:
This man was a medical student. “There’s one experience from last year that’s really stayed with me; it drew my attention to race and power dynamics,” he began. He told me about a time he was shadowing on a pediatrics critical care unit. “A baby needed to be intubated, and mom didn’t know what was happening, or why. She took out her phone and began recording. I wonder if she felt this was the only thing in her control…to document, to record what was happening?” he said. His reflections on the experience had continued to evolve over time. “Being recorded, I did feel implicated. I was only observing the procedure, but did that make me a passive bystander? What is the difference between a witness who observes, a witness who enables, a witness who shares, and a witness who tells? I know in this instance I was part of the system who failed the patient, because we hadn’t built trust with the mom before the crisis occurred,” he said. “Can witnessing ever be a passive act? When we’re part of the system, can we ever be separate?” He felt unsettled and unresolved, still, and wanted the poem to invite him to continue walking with the questions. He knew there was still more there for him to learn.
Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland