20 minutes is just
enough time to straddle
with one foot on cold but
efficient and the other
foot on warm but perpetually
behind schedule, but not
enough time to stand
comfortably somewhere
in the middle ground

20 minutes is just
enough time to
arm myself for battle
against their anxiety
and fear of their
expiration date, but not
enough time for all my
weapons of reassurance and
empathy to win that fight

20 minutes is just
enough time for me to
apply x amount of treatment
to deliver x amount of outcome
instead of ministering to their
spirits–which may be the
actual care they need–and not
just because 20 minutes
is not enough time, but
because to do that
medicine is
just not enough

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This physician described dealing with her patients’ anxiety as her “biggest enemy” and a “battle” she fights every day. She saw this anxiety as stemming from their fear of death–a fear that she did not have as a religious person. She said that even though on her lowest days it was sometimes hard to have empathy, she managed to do the best she could with the tools of her profession she had at her disposal. All of this was made much more difficult in the practice of modern medicine, in which she had only 20 minutes per patient during office visits. While she suspected that she could do more for her patients if she had more than that allotment of time, she also thought that medicine as a profession may not be a good fit for treating the spiritual ailments that may be at the core of some of her patients’ lives.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Yvette Perry

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