Garden-Growing

Quarantine came, and we were in a
groove, until our nanny moved.


Next came 8,000 lists, box-checking,
ordering all the things to send


a baby out into the world, at a time
when everything was dark…and then


we started gardening as a family.
We got our hands dirty and worked


outside. Now our six-year-old
wants to be a farmer. And our


four-year-old, a farmer’s helper.
We had been trying to keep everything


normal, but normal never had us
growing flowers and food together,


back when it was. Now, everything
is day-to-day…like it used to be,


and our children are growing gardens.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“I definitely don’t want the poem to be sad,” she said, “but it feels like everything has been sad lately.” This woman and her husband were both medical educators, and they had three daughters under the age of six. Keeping up with their work and parenting felt manageable under quarantine, until their long-time nanny moved. The transition to school and daycare had been challenging. They spent most of their time trying to keep things normal and fun for their kids at home, even though normal did not exist elsewhere. In an effort to find something they could do outside together, she began teaching the girls about gardening, like she’d learned from her father. The two older girls learned to love it. “Now my oldest wants to be a farmer when she grows up, and the four-year-old wants to be a farmer’s helper, instead of a doctor!” she said. “When they leave for different schools in the morning, they give each other huge hugs and say how much they will miss each other. Amidst all the darkness and stress, it’s been fun to see how they’ve grown so close to each other during this time.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Educator
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Nobody Trained Her to Surf on Sand

It felt like sinking in quicksand,
swirling and curling with currents


as the hourglass funneled. Whipped
right then flung back left, tossed


upside-down then right-side up. She
was disoriented; spinning; falling


somewhere sight unseen she wondered
if ground would ever find her feet.


Yet somewhere deep inside she knew
that even if it couldn’t, she’d do


what she could…she’d trade guilt
for grace ‘n learn to surf on sand.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This woman was a medical educator, and had two teenagers who were attending school from home. She faced incredible health challenges in 2020, unrelated to COVID-19. She had been diagnosed with cancer, and had reconstructive surgery, and she was also diagnosed with three chronic medical conditions. “They’re not fatal, but they’re not going away,” she said. “There is no space for me to fully process everything I’ve gone through. And it’s hard not to feel guilty. How dare I feel sorry for myself, complain, or do anything, when there are people dying?” She also wondered about the collateral damage yet to come after COVID, both of her not being able to process her own grief during this time, and also of an entire cohort of medical students who had to learn under these conditions. “Everything else just keeps moving, despite COVID. We have to get these students graduated on time,” she said, “but how do you keep moving when you can never get a foothold?” She wanted the poem to remind her that it was ok she was struggling with all of these things, even though it was amidst a pandemic.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Educator
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Tuar Ceatha

These days,
the uncertainty stretches
as far as the eye
can see,
rolling and unfolding
like Ireland’s landscape:
pear, juniper, and seafoam greens
never-ending, shades blending
……….until
a rainbow is revealed
through the mist.

Spanning from valley to valley,
colors alive, it reminds me:
where I look, lives what I see;
my eyes, they are
my agency;
somewhere out there
the gift of gold
exists where sky meets land,
……….and there,
it is waiting for me; there,
it is waiting for us all.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He was a physician and medical educator in The Bronx, New York. “I’d like my poem to be about the tolerance of uncertainty,” he began. “Most of the students I teach aren’t used to having an unclear path, or situations where the rules aren’t clean.” He shared that he believed the ability to be adaptable, and to delay inferences and let information come before making meaning, was a critical part of a medical education now. “With everything we’re seeing this year–from the pandemic, to social injustices, to the political climate, to the loss of RBG–there’s been an onslaught of sadness and heartbreak. This makes it even more difficult to hold ambiguity and uncertainty,” he said. “It feels uncomfortable; sometimes even crushing, especially as we start to see another uptick in COVID cases. Sometimes I have to compartmentalize. At the same time, we have to be able to envision our future and focus on what agency we do have. When I watch how my children are rising to the occasion, I know more hope is coming. I would like the poem to remind me of that hope amidst the discomfort of all the uncertainty.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Educator
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Courage to Forgive

Finally, I can talk about it
without anger in my chest.


I fought an uphill battle
that wasn’t mine to fight.


No matter what I did,
I couldn’t improve.


Day-by-day, it ate away
at my self-image,
for two and a half years.


Two and a half years!


I can speculate as to why,
but broken trust


is broken trust.
I’m not the first.
I won’t be the last–
the past is far from past.


But with time, space, distance,
feeling became healing;
crystal-clear seeing.


And my story discovered
its voice–
powerful, honest, fierce;
not in spite of injustice,
but because of my courage.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“It was so disheartening, expecting progress from trying, but consistently underperforming,” she said. This person was a fourth-year med student. She learned during her third year that she had a learning disability she was entitled to receive support for, but the results from an assessment she took at the start of her program were never given to her, despite her multiple requests. “After learning about this, I spiralled down before building back up,” she said. “It’s painful thinking about how much that experience deteriorated my self-image, knowing now that the information was available and the resources could have helped me.” She had since moved through many phases of grief and healing. She told me she drew strength from Stacy Abrams’ story, knowing that what she was able to do after initially losing her election was arguably much greater than her original intention. “I believe the patient population I’m supposed to serve will benefit from this experience, and the perspective it has given me,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

For Tomorrow

With reverence
For the sacred–
Ancestors, elders
Earth, language
Story, ceremony


I come as one
Of the first
Here;
Our arrival
Far too late


Nothing to celebrate;
Only birthright
Stolen,
Slowly being
Reclaimed


Long before yesterday
Our tribes deserved
What medicine
Had to offer,
Other than neglect


But now I see:
Medicine needs
Our sacred knowledge
To be made more
For tomorrow

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He was one of the first two people from his tribes to go to medical school. He told me that it was a difficult time to be away from his community because they were being hit so hard by the pandemic. “The oppression we face is showing itself through health,” he said. “We’re losing many of our elders, and when we lose our elders, we lose the sacred knowledge we’ve fought so hard to keep.” He told me he missed the ceremonies that had to be cancelled this year. While he was excited to be able to go back to his community to practice medicine as a doctor in the future, he didn’t see being one of the first to become a doctor as cause for celebration. “It’s more of an unveiling of a problem; it shouldn’t be this way. I might be one of the first, but I need to make sure I’m not the last. We have many gifted people in our community.” he said. I left this conversation with the sense that the field of medicine needed him and his community’s knowledge, perhaps as much, or more, than his community needed the field of medicine.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Birthday Intention

On the day before
my 25th birthday,
I’m happy. I’m on
the step I should
be, as I progress
on the path I’ve
always known was
for me. I grew up
living next to a
hospital–my dad
was a surgeon in
Ethiopia. I have
always been work-
ing toward some-
thing ahead, or
looking back to
reflect. Today my
intention is to
be fully present;
there’s no need to
postpone everyday
happiness…….!

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“Tomorrow is my 25th birthday. I’ve been reflecting a lot on where I thought I’d be by now,” she said. She told me she’d been born in Ethiopia and moved to the U.S. when she was in high school. She took her education seriously, and was always working toward something bigger than herself, looking ahead to the future. One thing she never expected was to be living this close to her family again. “My family is a very big part of my life. After six years of being away at school, I’m close to them again; my mom works only five minutes from here,” she said. She told me she was excited about the future, but that she realized she also wanted to learn to be more present and find happiness in everyday life.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

The Year of COVID-19

I was a fourth-year medical student. We were pulled
from the hospitals in March. I volunteered to help


with COVID testing at the health department. It gave
me a way to be part of contributing to the solution.


Personally, I was lucky. My family and friends were
healthy. But when I went back to the ICU in June, I


saw how sick the patients were. It stayed with me
(I started micro-managing my friends after I saw


the suffering, first-hand). I wanted to lock both my
parents in the apartment with me. After surviving


being alone for so long, I realized how much I valued
my relationships. This, too, will stay with me. All


my residency interviews were virtual; there were
a lot of awkward silences and no seeing cities.


When I think back on 2020, I want to remember it was the
year I survived isolation…this is my commemoration.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She wanted a poem to commemorate her experience living through COVID-19. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the significance of living through this piece of history, and what I want to remember when I look back on this time, twenty years from now,” she said. “I envision this poem on the wall of my office when I’m a physician–as a way to remind myself what this time was like.” She told me that the most memorable part of her experience this year was being alone in her apartment and living by herself. “It’s profound knowing I can survive something like this,” she said, “but I’m glad not to do it again.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

The Way Forward (Bridging Difference)

Many interests play
…….on our differences
……………in an attempt
…………………to pull us apart

I believe we
…….can do better


I believe we
…….can come together


I believe we
…….can be more united


But we have to want it


We have to work hard at it


Each one of us
…….must do our part

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

Her third year of medical school had been full of ups and downs, unknowns, and quite a bit of feeling unsafe as she navigated her year of rotations amidst COVID-19. At the same time, she was deeply inspired by seeing so many medical professionals working tirelessly to help their patients. She wanted to contribute to the solution, in part, by helping to correct misinformation. “I believe we have the power to choose how to read situations, and I believe in the power of listening to help with divisiveness,” she said. She told me she had been practicing this with her parents as she was both helping to educate them on the science to keep them motivated in the home stretch of the pandemic, but also learning how to listen more to understand where they (and others) were coming from. “For me, it’s about putting lives first. I know we can be more united, but we have to want it and work hard for it,” she said. I got the sense she was deeply committed to doing her part.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

The Calling

The call to be consistent
in an inconsistent world
is resounding, compounding,
deafening for some–


leaving faint, the echoes
of claws on casket, legacies
long gone, reminding we’ve only
recycled the struggles for show.


In medicine, we keep going
when everything else stops–
until the day we don’t. Some
will live another day;


others will take to the clawing
until someone hears their calling.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“When everything else stops, we keep going,” she began. This woman had always wanted to be a physician, and as a medical school student, was about to become the seventh generation of physicians on her mother’s side of the family. Her paternal grandmother never had a chance to go to medical school, but even so she found a way to contribute behind the scenes in the medical field. “I’m not sure why she’s been on my mind so much lately, but she has,” she said. She shared that she had lost a close friend this week who was the same age as her, which reminded her that life does just stop sometimes. This had caused her to contemplate the pressures of medical school and the medical profession–especially the unwieldy expectations on women in the field now. “Sure, I can be a surgeon and a mom, run three clubs, be head of a board, and start my own research lab. But just because I can do these things doesn’t mean I want to do these things. Parts of my life have to be sacrificed, even now as a med student. All of this comes at a cost,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Strong Winds, Strong Roots

Unity and balance call her to the middle
over and over and over again. Here, the


weather can get rough. Sometimes she feels
unsteady; so many perspectives, opinions,


pushing and pulling, every which way, cause her

to bend and sway. Unprotected, she feels every-

thing from this place. But she is clear-eyed

and wise–the middle is where she thrives.

She does not stand rigid or resist. And just as
the trees rely on the winds to help their roots


grow stronger, so does she.
Grow stronger, so does she.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“I’ve played the mediator role, all throughout my life,” she said. “I can’t not intervene–it’s something I’ve always been drawn to. I feel most satisfied when others are satisfied, and when there is balance.” She told me that she was able to help bring unity and balance between people in situations where multiple perspectives or opinions were present or competing. “I do this because I can. There is also a cost. It often means my own voice doesn’t get heard. But the truth is I can’t always trust others to listen to my perspective, even when I do share,” she said. She told me that even though there were times this was a hard role to play, she knew it was a unique ability, and her nature as a Libra! But she also worried that this tendency, combined with her empathy, could be a weakness if she didn’t develop a strong enough center herself. “Sometimes it feels like I can easily waiver, but I know I can also learn to be strong and composed from this empathetic position in the middle.” She told me she was committed to continuing to cultivate that strength within herself.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Semi-story

her words
told a story
of the power
of presence
and proximity,
but her eyes
savored the sight
of whatever
she saw
in the silence
that was still
curiously unclear
in the distance

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She had just finished a long hospital shift and was tired, but also grateful for the space to pause and reflect on her experiences and story. After months of physical distancing from others and not being able to be present in the hospital, she was appreciating the team of colleagues she had been working with, even though they’d been seeing patients with difficult social and emotional challenges. “Coming together at the end of the day to collaborate with others across disciplines to provide the best overall healthcare is part of what brought me into medicine,” she said. As we continued to talk, I was struck by how she seemed to savor the moments of silence and stillness even more than the sharing. As she reflected, she would gaze to the side, and each time I noticed a deeply curious look in her eyes. It gave me the sense that she could see or sense something that wasn’t quite ready to be spoken, or that she was anticipating exciting possibilities on the horizon. “I’d like the poem to offer a moment of pondering,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Ready to Settle In

Having my medical school process end in COVID is crazy
because I don’t know how to feel. I’m grateful for more


time with my partner and dog. I’m grateful for enough
time to sleep. But the time is also filled with sadness,


frustration, and confusion about everything else. I
don’t let myself process the feelings. I don’t think


anyone else is letting themselves process, either (not
just within medicine). The other thing I don’t usually


let myself do, is settle in–to a place, or with people.
But somehow, I’m hopeful looking ahead, that I’ll end up


where I’m meant to be, with the right resident family and
attendings. I believe I’ll find my home in this group of


friends and mentors, hopefully in warmer weather! And that
together, we’ll find creative ways to change the healthcare


system to reach, and give voice to, the often-forgotten
families who deserve to be heard and served much better.


I do believe my days of settling in are ready to begin.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She was in her fourth year of medical school, and had recently completed many virtual residency interviews. “It’s hard, not knowing what it will be like where you’re going to train, and having to make decisions based on videos,” she said. She was holding many conflicting emotions at the same time, but was hopeful about the future. What she looked forward to the most was becoming part of a cohesive and like-minded family with her co-residents and attendings. Ideally, this would be somewhere warmer than she was now, as she missed the warm weather in California, where she was from.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Purple Gloves

She wasn’t able to speak much, but I
knew her favorite color was purple.


Cancer took her too fast–without
family by her side when she died.


Who was I to be in her presence when
even her own sister was not allowed?


I was the one who wore purple gloves.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“I try to focus on the glimmers of hope and humanity–on the goodness amidst all of this,” she said. She was in her third year of medical school, and her training, like everything, had been especially challenging because of COVID-19. She knew it would make her and others more resilient in the long run, but she also knew interacting with patients through masks could never be the same as touching a shoulder and seeing a face. She shared an unforgettable story with me about one particular patient who had touched her deeply. The patient’s sister, who had been her caretaker for years, wasn’t allowed to visit, so she would call her with updates as often as she could. The sister was devastated she wasn’t allowed to visit, and by the time she was, it was too late to say goodbye. She told me the patient couldn’t speak due to her disability, but that she knew her favorite color was purple, and so she would purposefully look for purple gloves to wear when she cared for her. I was blown away by this simple, but profound gesture–an act of compassion; a loving honoring of her patient’s humanity in her final days of life.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Not a Test

I am not a test.
But if I were,
these are the questions
I’d be asking:


1.
Why are we being made to suffer
(as opposed to sacrifice)
in order to become
physicians?


2.
Why do we put so much emphasis
on a test like this,
when we know it impacts
our health?


3.
Why do we continue
to use standardized testing
when we know it was crafted
for a certain crop of people?


4.
Why aren’t we asking
these questions
(seriously)
of our profession?

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She had been studying for board exams and was experiencing a tremendous amount of stress and adverse impacts on her health. This had caused her to contemplate medicine and standardized test-taking, who does well and why, what it means to be a good test-taker, and how people can be impacted for many years to come. She wasn’t where she wanted to be yet in her preparations, and was trying to remain both faithful and realistic. She had already overcome challenges much greater than this in her life, and she knew there was hope on the others side. “In the grand scheme of life, should I be stressing over this or thanking God for all the other things that are going well?” she said. I got a sense the questions she was holding had been with her for a while: “I don’t have a problem making sacrifices. But is this suffering really making us better?” she asked.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Medical School, So Far

It’s only my first year, but so far, so good
(especially considering the circumstances)


Blessings, that may not have seemed so otherwise,
include:

  • Fern, and her spot right next to my desk
  • Monday afternoon rest after Monday morning tests
  • My apartment, that’s now full of plants
  • Getting to know the city by running
  • Connecting intentionally with my little sisters
    (not being there tugs at me)
  • Study-free mealtime that incentivizes
    slow-cooked meals
  • Dropping compost every other week at a friend’s
    (and staying for a home-cooked meal)
  • Watching Bob’s Burgers and Steven Universe
    to give my brain a break
  • Taking time for self-care, every single day

    It’s not what I’d imagined medical school would be,
    but I trust it’s what’s right for the making of me.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This person was in his first year of medical school in Cincinnati, which was a new city to him. “It’s challenging, but it’s going okay. It’s impossible to know what it would be like otherwise since this is all I know!” he said. He walked me through his daily routine that was starting to take shape with most of his classes happening online. He shared about the things he cared about, including his family, his cat, plants, and self-care. It wasn’t how he’d imagined his first year would be, and he missed friends back home. But he trusted this was where he belonged. He was committed to staying the course. “I hope the poem can reassure me of just that,” he said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Living with Dying

It was my first time actually
seeing someone die.
We’d just met, but as she
took her last breath
I had the feeling I’d known her
for a long time.


As I watched her family
I felt myself tearing up inside,
feeling the fragility of life.
After we left, I wished
we could talk about it,
but that’s not part
of our culture in medicine.


She could have been my mother.
She could have been me.
Part of living is dying,
but it’s not healthy
obsessing over death.


I long for resolve, release–
a way to find peace
and dance with the grief;
a way to find more beauty
in the everyday.


Maybe it’s finally time
to get to know
my own soul…

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mortality and the fragility of life,” she said. She was a third-year med student and had just finished her palliative care rotation. She shared a story about losing a patient, and told me it was the first time she had ever witnessed someone die. “There’s not a lot of space or time to process emotion,” she said. “I actually felt really sad.” She told me that since then, she had been obsessing about death, and she knew it wasn’t healthy, but the experience had triggered a lot of fear and worry in her. She wanted to learn how to be able to accept death (as it was an inevitable part of all life), without thinking about it all the time. She asked me if I had seen the movie “Soul,” and said it had reminded her of the importance of learning to see everyday beauty as a way to find joy in the present moment.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

The Magic of Creation

I love to create–
build, manifest, fabricate
all kinds of things
like furniture, longbows
meals, tree forts, clothes
halloween costumes, santa hats,
snow sculptures, plush fur scarves


Up next:
a knee-length peacoat
or maybe,
a lightsaber…
anything is possible!
and it would be so much fun
……………………..to be a Jedi–

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He was a physician who loved the process of creating things. He told me he loved puzzles, problem-solving, and breaking down the base components required to get to an end goal. “I love the opportunity and possibility in creation,” he said. “Anything is possible.” He told me about different things he had made over the years, and described how much satisfaction he got from the process of taking an idea from inception to creation. He also had an incredible appreciation for the fun and the magic of life. “I never grew out of loving the magic of the lights and snow, and all that comes with the Christmas season…or of the excitement from the music at the beginning of Harry Potter,” he said. This also fueled his love for creation, prototyping, and inventing.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

The Cemetery Inside

I wasn’t sure, at first, why,
but his story transported me
to Loughcrew…


……….maybe it was his last name,
……….or his Irish accent,
……….or the way he described
……….the cemetery he carried.


When I arrived,
a faint drumbeat
sounded
in the background:


……….Lub-dub.
……….Lub-dub.
……….Lub-dub.


Rattling rattled,
then silence
synchronized.


It was cold;
the fog hovered
just above
a grouping of gravestones,
fairly fresh.


There were four,
……….maybe five.
The mist made it hard to tell.


No one had come to pray,
or weep there,
in a while.
The grass was too upright;
knees on these blades
had not yet been felt.


Then, I heard a small choir
whisper from the dead:
……….“This is not yours,”
it simply said.


I took a deep breath,
engulfed by the gravity of what I’d felt,
and knew it was time to leave.


This passageway could only hold
enough space at a time
for one grieving soul,
……….and he was ready to enter.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He was a surgeon who had worked in emergency medicine for thirteen years. He told me that he’d been contemplating the French practitioner Rene Leriche’s quote: “Every surgeon carries within himself a small cemetery, where from time to time he goes to pray—a place of bitterness and regret, where he must look for an explanation for his failures.” He knew this feeling, intimately. “The cemetery in my head is still small–probably less than five–but I do carry it with me,” he said. “I wonder how much right I have to that second-hand pain when it’s not my loved one who has died?” He shared that physicians often talked about “cases,” but the experience of what it was like to carry this pain and grief was widely un-discussed and undisclosed. “Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go through the list–to look at each gravestone I carry with me,” he said.

As we were about to close our conversation, he reflected on a recent experience he had observing a trauma response in the E.R. “I can tell I’m progressing in my practice,” he said. “This time, I was observing, but not detached. Detaching is an old friend of mine, but this time I was present, focused, and connected.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

The Body Remembers

I’ve been through something
that I thought would never end;
then I walked again.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This woman was deeply grateful for a meaningful career that had enabled her to make a difference as both a medical provider and educator. She wanted the poem to remind her of the meaning of her work when things got tough, and of her bravery and strength. She had been struggling with the impacts of COVID-19 and with witnessing how racism and systemic inequity was impacting the country and the people she served. She was no stranger to adversity. For six years, she’d had a medical condition that left her unable to walk and in constant pain. She had accepted she’d never walk again. Then, after receiving a different diagnosis and treatment, she’d regained her ability to walk again and function without pain. “When things feel hard now, I try to remind myself where I’ve been before. I found a way to make it then, so I know I can find a way to make it now,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Pruning and Yardsticks

Sometimes life has to
cut through something
that isn’t entirely dead
in order to help it heal
and grow to new heights


Her pruning wasn’t like
the rest because life knew
she was like bamboo, and
wouldn’t regrow from the cut–
she’d grow back from the base


(when she realized this,
she knew her next yardstick
could never be made of wood)

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“I’d like my poem to be about resilience and reinvention,” she began. “These are the things I’m most proud of about myself.” After being traumatized and then publicly fired from a high-profile job in academia, she was forced to reinvent herself. Coming from a family who already valued these things, it had been easier; her mother had reinvented herself on multiple occasions. “What I learned is that it’s critical not to have a life that’s monolithic and tied only to a role. I need other interests and people to support me, so that I can have enough internal reserve to rebuild,” she said. She shared that she just accepted a new executive leadership position and was preparing to move to a new institution. “What allowed me to do this is the experience of having survived what I did. If I hadn’t been fired and gone through that trauma, I wouldn’t have grown to the heights I have grown,” she said. She went on to share that her father was a giant in the field of medicine. Now that she was no longer living in his shadow, she was having to redefine the yardstick she measured herself by.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Pandemic Stew

She’d been searching for
the right words or metaphor
to describe
her pandemic experience–
Was it like two sides of the same coin?
(not really)
Was it like living in two worlds?
(not quite)


Maybe it was more
like a pot of simmering stew–
flavors blending, melding
a heaping helping of gratitude
with a reasonable ration of guilt,
and a few too many grievances
(not-yet-grumbling)
for her taste buds’ sweeter liking?

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“My experience during this pandemic has been many different things,” she began. “It’s been odd.” This woman and her husband were both physicians. She was a hospitalist, and he worked in a clinical setting. They were new parents, and she was grateful for the additional time they got to have at home together as a family since the pandemic began. “That’s the good part,” she said. “The hard part is that I feel guilty for the parts of the pandemic that have been beneficial to our family because I know others are suffering.” She also mentioned that though she lived in Canada, she worked in the U.S. To get to work, she had to cross the border. “It feels like I’m living in two worlds sometimes, but not really,” she said. “As a working mom, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, it also feels like I’m doing more of the behind-the-scenes running of our family. From grocery shopping, to preparing meals, to 4am feedings, to all the other extras unseen, it’s a lot of work. I’m not sure my husband understands.” About mid-way through our conversation, she left for a moment to go “stir a pot,” as she was also meal-prepping as we talked.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Mystical Medicine

Medicine woman.
Teacher.
Shaman.
Poet.
Shield-maiden.


She is a fighter.
She is a forcefield of love.
She will see right through,
……….seduce you with truth.


She is emotive.
She is devoted.
She will lure you into a full-circle
……….love affair with medicine.


She is passion.
She is purpose.
She will give you permission to settle
……….in the essential elements of life.


She is divine connection.
She is peace, embodied.
She will nurture everything around her
……….to burst into life and thrive.


She knows that we must unmake
……….the things that are destroying us.


She knows which anchors can bear
……….the weight of that unmaking.


She knows that her presence
……….is prayer.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

I got a sense right away that this woman had deep wisdom to share. She had been a doctor in Emergency Medicine for twenty-four years, and was working now as a leader in medicine and medical educator. “I’m going to use the right side of my brain for this conversation,” she began. She shared with me that she’d recently written some of her own poetry and shared it with her colleagues. They were deeply touched. It reminded her that her words can help others figure out how to be in times like these. She had been focused on equity, diversity, inclusion, and wellness for a long time in her career. “It’s mind-boggling to me we have to write papers on the most essential elements of life,” she said. “Now that I’ve trained myself on the scientific aspects of medicine, I have more ability to use my intuitive side; to see and feel people fully in order to build trust. This is how we move into a right relationship with medicine.” She realized that lately she had started swaying, but not yet drifting, away from her own right relationship with medicine. “I knew I needed to re-anchor myself, and so I did. I live in a world where I am truly grateful,” she said. I left this conversation feeling deeply impacted by this woman’s presence, and by the conviction and clarity that flowed through her in this conversation.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

My Guiding Light

Do you (really) know
how much you’re loved
and appreciated by me?

Maybe I’ve forgotten
to remind you
with enough frequency

So much around us
is breaking, crumbling, struggling,
but with you, everything is right

Everything you do is right

You make it look easy
to shoulder
tremendous responsibility

You carry it with swirl
and swagger, under pressure,
as if you were simply sailing

I don’t know when this storm will end,
but I know you’re more than my keel–
you are my guiding light

Everything you do is right

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This man wanted a poem that conveyed the deep love and appreciation he had for his family, and especially his wife. “They are my heart and soul, and my number one priority,” he began. He and his wife had been married for almost eighteen years, and had two children who were eleven and fourteen. Their lives were busy and extra chaotic in the time of COVID-19. Both were physicians working in leadership positions at the same academic institution. “Our house shoulders a lot of responsibility,” he said. “I want to make sure my wife knows that amidst this time when everything else is breaking down and hurting, she can do no wrong in my eyes. We joke that every sailboat needs its keel, and she really is that, and more, for me–especially now. I probably haven’t told her enough lately, all the things she does right. She does everything right! I never want her to doubt that, or forget how much I love her.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Love with Nowhere to Go

You were the answer to our prayers–
the missing heartbeat in our lives.

We’re grateful you made us parents.
Your presence made us whole.

Now we’re left with all that love
that has nowhere to go.

We loved you dearly, little one.
We will always love you fiercely.

So, yes, grief will fade with time;
our hearts, now hollow, will fill,

but still, you’ll always live in us
because love with nowhere to go

can never fade; can only grow.
Can never fade; can only grow.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She told me that her and her husband had desired a child for a very long time. They had struggled with infertility, but had finally learned they were pregnant just before Christmas, and had seen the baby’s heartbeat. “I spent Christmas alone, because my husband was working, but I didn’t feel alone. Our hearts were so full, and I remember feeling so grateful for the gift of this child who we had wanted for so long,” she said. At her next ultrasound appointment, she learned they had lost the baby. “It was shocking. We really loved our baby, even though we never met,” she said. She told me that she knew her body did all that it could to keep the baby. As she reflected on her grief and what she might want to convey at the memorial, she said, “I want you to know you had two parents who loved you, and you had the most wonderful father. Thank you for making me a mom. We’ll wait to meet you next in heaven.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Layers

I’ve been told I look like an astronaut in
outer space when I walk into patients’ rooms.

Wearing a PAPR makes the space around me feel
alien. It’s bulky, weighty, loud; always whirring.

A constant physical reminder of the weight of
our work, the responsibility, the barriers between

us and patients. I wish I could touch their skin,
listen to their hearts and lungs, as I care for them.

Underneath, I wear scrubs; the white coat seems one more
unnecessary layer (I wonder about what it symbolizes).

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed, lonely, wistful. Sometimes I’m
humbled, grateful. I’m always hopeful because my days are

also sprinkled with moments of love. I felt cared for when
they brought us apple pie–that was such a nice surprise.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She was a physician working in an inpatient setting with COVID patients. She was unable to wear an N95, so instead she had to wear a PAPR every day. “It’s loud, and a constant physical reminder of the weight of this work right now, and of the barriers between us and patients. It symbolizes the complexity and extra layers we’re dealing with because of COVID,” she said. She told me that while it was a hassle putting it on, taking it off, and cleaning and wiping it every day, she still felt deep gratitude for the work she was able to do. “I realize this is an inconvenience for me, whereas others have had the entire fabric of their lives disrupted,” she said. “I try my best to help every patient. Even when I’m worried inside, I provide the best care I can.” At the end, this poem references a specific time she felt especially cared for, which she appreciated because it was what she strived to do for her patients. She wanted the poem to be both wistful and hopeful to capture the multiplicity of her experience.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Keeping Memories

There we were–gathered around her in the ICU.
She had decided it was her time to stop fighting.

She didn’t have COVID, but almost all of our other
patients did. We had been working in the ICU for weeks.

In medical school, we were taught not to cry in front
of patients. But that day, we cried. We all cried.

Behind our masks, somehow, we had more permission.
The built-up emotion needed somewhere to go.

There was nothing else to do. There was nothing else to do,
but to be there, and cry. All of the other stuff we surround

ourselves with day-to-day, fell away. I want to remember
that feeling. I want to take it with me, wherever I go.

It needs a place to stay. Where can I give this grief a home?

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

One week into her ICU rotation this year, her ICU had been converted to COVID-only. It was an incredibly challenging time for her. “We’re used to being able to sit with our patients and be by their sides. Not only could we not do that, but there was no safe space for family members. I saw so many heroes–nurses and others–doing what they could to comfort patients. I don’t want to leave this story behind…it was a difficult time but somehow revealed what was most essential. It’s like I don’t have anywhere to put these experiences so I can remember them,” she said. She recounted one particular story from a time her team was caring for an older patient who had traumatic injuries that could probably have been treated, but the patient decided she didn’t want to pursue them. She had lived a long, beautiful life and was ready for it to end. This poem speaks to that story she recounted, and the emotion that was present not only for her, but for the entire team of providers. “I’d like the poem to be raw and honest–just like I felt that day,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Fall Blessing

When the weight of the New day
rests upon your chest

Making rise and fall of breath
impossible to feel, and everything is numb

May you find, inside,
a sanctuary for your soul

Where the sun meets morning
with a golden glow to warm you

Where the chill of wind meets your cheeks
with a sweeping offer of serenity

Where the thinning October maple outside your window
wakes you to the beauty of fallen leaves

Where the colorless chrysanthemums in the garden remind:
nothing in nature blooms every season

Where the traveling song of birds
leaves space for tears to grieve

Where the rainclouds reveal how letting go
makes possible all of life to grow

Where the chirping of crickets at dusk
helps you hear your own heartbeat, and return to your body

Where the stars in the sky smile upon and guide you
to rest in the softness of soon-to-come snow

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This person was experiencing a tremendous amount of loss and overwhelm as a daughter, parent, spouse, physician, and champion for medical school students. Together, the pandemic, racism, and the political environment were weighing heavily on her and had begun hitting close to home. In the past few months, she’d lost three very close family members. “There are many external needs right now because of these losses; I need to stay strong. But the weight is incomprehensible. I can’t see clearly; everything is too clouded with thoughts,” she said. “As a caregiver for so many others, I can’t fully mourn. I feel more numb than anything else.” As a practitioner who advocated for and taught humanistic and compassionate care for patients, she wanted this poem to be an offering of that, to herself. “I’d like for the poem to offer relief, comfort, and validation that what I’m doing is enough,” she said. “I’d like the poem to feel like a hug.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Who I Want to Be

Family is every-
thing to me.
So many others
want to be defined
as doctors.
I want to be
known for being
a good husband,
a good father,
someone with a
heart for kids
who also happens
to be
a good doctor.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“I will choose work life balance over being consumed by my profession every day,” he said. He was a third-year medical school student, and was beginning to think about what specialty he might pursue. While it was very important to him to become a committed and competent doctor who built relationships with his patients over time, he was also very close with his family, and wasn’t willing to sacrifice his family life, now or in the future, for his profession. “Sometimes I worry I may be looked down upon for this, since so many in this field prioritize medicine above all else in their lives. I hope the poem can reassure me I can still be a good doctor and make a difference while living a balanced life. I always knew I wanted to be a doctor, but it’s not who I want to be known as. I want to be known more as a good husband and father,” he said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Where I Want to Be

I’m not supposed to say it’s a priority because
my husband is here. As women, we’re expected to

do a lot. To deal with a lot, without needing a
lot. Some would say my career should come first.

The possibility of being apart, of being somewhere
without my biggest support, scares me. I know he’ll

be wonderful no matter where I go; it’s a gift
to have a relationship this patient and loving.

I’ll be grateful when I know where I’ll be, and I’ll
be happy and relieved if we can stay here, together–

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“There’s not a lot within your control in the match process, and I think that’s creating anxiety for me,” she said. She was going into her fourth year of medical school, which is where she’d met her husband. They were friends at first, grew closer over time, and were married earlier this year. “I know every specialty is competitive, and the possibility of being in different locations scares me. Residency is trying, emotionally and mentally. I think I’m fearful of being somewhere alone without my support system.” She told me how loving her relationship was, and that she was incredibly grateful to have such a sweet, supportive, and patient spouse. She didn’t feel any pressure from him. She knew he would do whatever it took, but she did feel some pressure that she wasn’t supposed to say her preference was to be where he was. “A lot of people would tell me my career should come first,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

The Right Place

In the ER we see people on their worst days;
now-a-days, it’s their worst day amidst a pandemic.

I don’t see them as patients with problems–
they are people, and it’s important how I treat them.

But the more I see patients as people,
the tougher it can be to accept tough outcomes.

Even so, my priority is making sure I’m proud
of how I care for patients and their families.

It’s what makes the hard work so fulfilling;
It’s how I know I’m in exactly the right place.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This person was an emergency medicine physician in her first independent job since graduating from residency. “It’s been a challenging transition,” she said. She told me that she was adjusting to having fewer resources now that she was no longer at a large academic institution. She still felt good about her work, as challenging as it was. “In the ER we see raw humanism, and now it’s mixed in with the pandemic. But the most important thing is that I make sure I’m proud of how I treat people; that I can connect well with them.” she said. She wanted her poem to convey the contentment she felt about her work, and the high value she placed on seeing patients as people.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

They Didn’t Teach Me How to Swim in This

I feel helpless,
for the first time,
like I’m spiraling downward; drowning.

I spent years training to be able
to spot all the health effects
of an untreated pulmonary embolism.

I made the right diagnosis.
The patient left with a treatment plan.
But he returned, weeks later, much worse.

He couldn’t afford the blood thinners he needed.
We spent hours with social workers, case workers,
pharmacists, and still

We failed him. As a healthcare system.

It was all preventable.

I learned how to diagnose disease, but not
how to treat a broken society.
Or a broken healthcare system, plagued by disparity.

They didn’t teach me how to swim in THIS.
How am I supposed to help…to doctor,
when I can barely keep my head above water?

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This woman was a medical resident. She had just finished a three-week rotation that left her feeling helpless and burned out, for the first time. Throughout her training, she’d often felt tired, but she’d always felt the time spent was productive, until this rotation. She enjoyed the patients she cared for, and was interested in their cases, but she saw how the system was failing patients. At times, it was insurance refusing to cover necessary medications. Or the inability of some patients to pay for the rehabilitation support they needed. She knew what needed to be done, but wasn’t able to see the treatments through because of non-clinical factors out of her control. “We spend hours meeting with the social workers, case workers, and pharmacists. Sometimes it feels like it’s all pointless as it doesn’t translate to patients getting what they need,” she said. “I feel like I’m treading water, helpless, almost drowning.” She had been confronted with disparity in a way she’d never witnessed first-hand. She shared a story about one patient that was particularly disheartening to her. “We, as a healthcare system, failed him,” she said. “Frustrated isn’t even the right word; I feel helpless, hopeless–this isn’t what I was trained to do.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Two Kinds of Tension

The first is not-at-all foreign.

I’m comfortable with the kind of tension

that has come from my choosing:

— A career as an anesthesiologist

   and an education administrator

— Not having children of my own

— Responsibility for 1100 trainees

    who I want to (but can’t) know individually

— Institutional obligation to a role and

   personal obligation to my heart


The second is completely foreign.

I’m not (yet?) comfortable with the kind of tension

that has not come from my choosing:

— Do I need to dedicate more time somewhere else?

— What will it be like to lose a parent?

— What else (like meditation) have I neglected

    or forgotten?

— What else haven’t I (ever) thought about?

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This person had always identified strongly with her career as a physician and medical educator. She felt she’d been lucky, both in her career and life, because both were full of meaning (and relatively full of ease). The last few months in her leadership role during COVID-19 had tested her. It was the tension outside of her work, however, that she’d really begun to notice for the first time in her life. “My mom was in the hospital twice this summer,” she said. “It could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Even though I’m a physician and my parents are 86 and 87, I’d never thought about what it would be like to lose a parent.” As I listened to her share, it was evident that tension was not foreign to her in her professional role. Perhaps, though, there were other kinds of tension she hadn’t yet encountered that were knocking on her door. “I’d like the poem to leave me curious,” she said. “Perhaps it could point me toward something I hadn’t seen before.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Inner-Artist

For others, she’s mastered

the art of holding space,

the gift of giving grace.

For herself, she’s learning

to listen. In stillness, she knows

the artist inside

is calling her home.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She was the only psychologist at her institution. It was now a full-service COVID-19 facility. She had been providing support to both patients, as well as her colleagues, since the pandemic began. “This is the first time everyone is going through the same thing, including providers,” she said. “But I can’t tell a patient, ‘Oh yeah, I’m feeling the same way,’ when I’m the one providing stability.” She was visibly tired. When I asked her what drew her to this experience, she lit up. “I came to psychology later in life,” she said. “I used to be an artist, and I haven’t sketched anything for at least fifteen years. Psychology is a different kind of creativity than the immediacy of pen on paper. I want to reconnect with this side of me. I’m looking forward to picking up new skills.  Who knows, maybe I’ll continue.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Psychologist
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

What It’s Worth

Sometimes I wonder
if this career
is really worth the cost:
— what (maybe) could have
been a happy marriage
— being a stay-at-home mom
(I don’t want to be
a stay-at-home mom)
— not getting time to pee;
every ten hours a bite
to eat; chronic fatigue
— only taking what I’m
given; never asking
for what I need
— the possibility of never
having a family

But then I remember there’s
a reason I haven’t given up.
I have so much passion
for the people I serve.

Today I got to readjust
a femur! How intimate–to get
to touch someone’s body
to help them get better.

In the operating room,
people trust us to control
their breathing; to keep
their bodies functioning.

When I’m sewing up wounds
I never wonder about
the cost. I only feel
focused and closeness.

I am a human force amidst
IV lines and white coats.
I am resilience and endurance.
I am on the right path.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This person wanted her poem to be about the resilience, sacrifice, and endurance it took to pursue a medical career. She told me she was engaged when she first began medical school. Eventually, she had to make the hardest decision of her life to call it off. “We had been together for seven years. I already had a wedding dress,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s worth it, to be giving up so much of myself for a career.” She intended to pursue neurosurgery, and told me how others who’ve gone this path have found it impossible to maintain a relationship or have a family. “There is so much burnout, but I also love the operating room. There’s a reason I haven’t given up,” she said. She came alive when she described what it felt like to be entrusted with people’s lives in surgery. She was holding many tensions at the same time, but even so, she said she still knew she was on the right path.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Resident
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Traveler’s Caution

when you want
to meet people
where they are,
never travel
untethered;

before you go,
always remember:
stay connected
to you compass
and your center

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

Part of her responsibility was to help medical students with their professional identity formation and to support faculty development. As a social worker, she knew the value of human connection, listening, and centering patients and families within the healthcare system. “This is the compass that guides me, and can keep us connected to our values,” she said. “It’s easy to get sidetracked by outside forces like agendas, stakeholders, and infrastructure. Instead, we need to align the system with our values, and keep our patients and families at the center of everything we do, by staying centered ourselves.” She acknowledged this wasn’t easy. “We’re supposed to be able to set aside our needs to take care of others, but then we turn around and say we need to take care of ourselves. It’s not always possible to prioritize both of those things. But if you’re not struggling with it, you’re not in it. If you’re struggling, it means you’re connected,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Social Worker
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

My New Horse

she is gorgeous
brown, black, white
long mane
long, full tail

we’re having so much fun
in the fields
on the trails
galloping around the pasture

we’re bravely crossing bridges
and facing
our fears
together

I’m grateful
I’ve got her on track
for getting
all healed up

I’m grateful
she’s got me on track
for getting
all healed up, too

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She grew up with horses, riding. It was a big part of her life and teenage years. Losing her first horse after fourteen years (and too young) was a traumatic experience. After that, she graduated from college and got married. She rode her friends’ horses, never thinking she would own one again. This year, the stars had aligned. She’d found a horse that changed that conviction for her. She decided to once again invest in a relationship, even though it meant facing her fears and knowing she’d eventually have to lose another love. She radiated so much joy and life as she told me about her new horse. “We’ve just been having so much fun together. She is so beautiful, and I’m so proud of how far she’s come. I see now that we’re both facing our fears together. It’s been a very difficult year working in healthcare, but she’s reminding me there is beauty all around us in the world, even when things are hard. She has inspired me to pursue my dreams, even though life is short,” she said. It was clear their bond was a powerful source of healing, light, and learning how to trust–for both of them.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Staff
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

home

before she sleeps
she tenderly tucks in
each hidden story,
each unshared secret,
each ask for a hug
with the love
of a mother
and the endearment
of a soul
who has discovered
a piece of herself
in another

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“When you get to hear the hidden sides of people’s stories, you never look at people the same,” she said, with a noticeable tenderness in her voice. This woman was a therapist who supported physicians and residents. “Sometimes as I lay in bed at night I inhabit the stories people share with me. It’s almost like a mother tucking her children in at night, endeared to some of the people I talk with who don’t always get to express their humanity in their work,” she said. She went on to talk about the “hidden curriculum” in medicine, which is a set of unspoken rules for medical professionals: always be objective, don’t appear weak, don’t cry in front of patients, you’re never sick, don’t ask for help, don’t let anyone know anything personal. “I’ve been working hard to change this culture because doctors deserve to be real people,” she said. “Seeing the hidden side of providers is a sacred experience. My ears hear so many secrets and so much that people barely dare to give utterance to elsewhere. To embrace these realities as my life’s work is the most amazing gift I can think of.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Staff
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Integration

I’ve learned
how to lead
as a woman,
as a person
of color,
as a mother

in this body
that was given to me
not free from harm,
holding memories
from before
I was born

I admire those
who can see
opportunity
because
I am frustrated
I am angry

And I am hopeful
because
I know now
feeling is healing,
and my children
are the proof

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This woman had been working in diversity, equity, and inclusion since the ‘90s. She was frustrated and angry that such little measurable progress had been made since then. “Lately I’ve been most concerned about efforts to quiet people’s voices and votes, which is tied to the situation we’re in. It’s all so disturbing,” she said. She shared that she was half Japanese-American, third generation, and that most people didn’t realize she was a person of color. When her parents married in 1960, interracial marriage was illegal in seventeen states. “I admire people who can see the opportunities amidst the despair–especially millennials. They are so much more accepting and inclusive than my generation. Seeing how my children react and treat people gives me so much hope,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Staff
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Not-enough-ness

Why am I in the middle?
Why am I so lonely?

Am I good enough?
Am I doing enough?

How much better
will ever be enough?

What can I say aloud that isn’t
hidden, haunted by not-enough-ness?

She is surely the most
devious demon I’ve battled…

that I’m still battling,
in the shadows, every day.

My only consolation is knowing
I can’t be the only one…

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“These are the words that keep coming up for me,” she said. “‘Enough,’ and ‘in the middle.’ She had been in a constant push and pull between being okay with who she was and what she did, and always wanting to be better. She had become used to lonely roles in her life: she was an educational administrator (and the only one at her institution who held the role she did). She was the only professional woman in a large family. Her husband stayed at home to care for their children. She held a doctorate, and when she got married, she was sure she’d be a stay-at-home mom. Things hadn’t played out that way, and she was proud of where she had ended up, but she had rarely ever shared her desire from earlier in life with anyone. “It’s another element of me, and I wonder if it’s an element of other professional women that they can’t ever fully share, because it would be a sure-fire career stopper if you said it aloud,” she said. “I would love to see myself in this poem in a way that’s validating. I hope it can help others, as well, to be able to see someone else’s struggles and legitimize that they are okay, and enough, too.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Staff
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Nothing Left

When all of the injustice
gets to be so big,
the one thing
I know I can do
is listen.

When all of the pain
starts to cut so deep,
the one thing
I know I can do
is speak truth
about the things
that are hard.

When all of the truth
starts to come into light,
I don’t know yet,
if anything,
will be left.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She had been spending a lot of nights laying awake thinking about all the things that had gone wrong this year. “I don’t even have a short fuse anymore…I don’t have any fuse! There’s just nothing left. The stress and uncertainty are constant. I can’t get away from it,” she began. The pandemic was taking a toll on her daughter’s school and mental health. The social unrest had brought her own privilege to the forefront in a way that was more concrete and real than ever before. She believed now was the time to uplift Black Lives Matter, and she was working hard to simultaneously serve as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, who had their own unique needs at this time. All of this was happening in the backdrop of realizing her marriage was over. She hadn’t yet told her husband and some of her family. Her mother-in-law had recently passed away. Her mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer last year and was living with tremendous fear every day now. “I really don’t have any fuse left,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Staff
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Unburdening

This has been such a hard year;
it started off rough for us

even before COVID darkened the door.
I didn’t know how I could cope

with the danger (I had been denying)
of my daughter’s depression, while I

was at the end of my tether too? I needed
to do things to keep me strong,

so I started getting serious about my own
self-care: sleeping, nurturing relationships,

unplugging from news, poetry, biking.
I’m happy about the progress I’ve made–

I feel like I’ve tapped into some resilience,
but damn…we’re gonna need it.

__________This just grinds on and on and on.

I wonder and worry: how close will it come
to my own inner circle? Will it be my aging mother?

My smoking husband? All bets are off.
But it doesn’t have to be tragic.

The slowing down gives space to sit
and think about what matters.

People matter. Love matters.
Truth matters. Beauty matters.

My connection to the universe matters.
The natural world matters. It will show us ways

to be there for one another, to bear witness
to the unburdening, throughout all the seasons.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

Right away, this woman radiated warmth, kindness, and a generosity of spirit that shone in her eyes. She shared that her year began with a terrible scare from her daughter’s depression, and trying to cope with that crisis had prompted one of her own. She began going to therapy and committed to prioritizing self-care so that she could make it through this time of uncertainty with enough strength to also support others. “Anything we can do to foster resilience is needed now; we’re in a log slog here and I’d like that to be my topic of unburdening today,” she said. “We just don’t know what lies ahead, so I’m focusing on what I can control. We’re making slow progress toward a new normal, and it doesn’t have to be tragic. But we’re going to need to tap into a lot of resilience together…and to our connections to the natural world, the universe, and to the sublime.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Staff
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Poetry’s Gift

/………——————————………\
/ …………Together they wove………..\
/ a web so strong it became haven \
| to joy-soaked grief; sacred weaving |
\..revealing sun’s light gleaming../
\ on salty raindrop diamonds, /
\..portaled by poetry into../
\ this life, reminds of /
\ the time before /
\ they were /
\ three /
\ — /

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This was a beautiful and heartfelt conversation with three women who all worked in medical education. They were connected through a poetry group they’d created together. The women wanted to share their experiences of building deep friendship and co-creating joy through poetry. Toward the end of the conversation, after they had offered anecdotes about their favorite poems and most meaningful shared experiences, one of the women began to cry as she reflected on a particularly memorable moment she recently shared with one of the others. “It was the kind of experience, like after a storm when you notice raindrops clinging to the plants, especially the ones with spider webs. The raindrops shine like little diamonds. For me, knowing that our time is limited, I want to capture and hold every one of those moments, so precious like those little diamonds of water on spider webs after the rain,” she said.

The other woman (who had been referenced in the aforementioned memory) shared next. “I have been treated for advanced cancer for several years now,” she said. “There is no cure for it. What’s been most meaningful to me is that we’ve been able to share life together in a way that is different than how we normally would–like the little diamonds on the spider webs. We’ve created a precious thing together.” The third woman connected with the imagery as well, and in that moment everything softened and blended. The metaphor revealed the sacred essence this group of friends had cultivated through poetry. Poetry was their portal to shared vulnerability, meaning-making, friendship, playfulness, joy, love, and grieving the inevitable impermanence of it all. I left the conversation feeling deeply grateful for the rare privilege and gift of bearing witness to their story.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Group of Staff
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

More of Me

I’m learning to see
all that hides in the shadows

I’m learning to listen
when confronted with not knowing

I’m learning to sense
where and when to engage my energy

I’m learning to discern
what’s mine to own and what I can discard

I’m learning to recognize
my own power and voice; my own truth and choice

I’m learning to be
unabashedly more of me

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This woman was currently a medical school student. She was one of only two Black students in her class. She had first worked in the corporate world before deciding to pursue medical school at age twenty-five. Recently, she’d finished an essay for a service-learning scholarship. “Writing this essay has really helped me uncover insights and access clarity within myself,” she said. “I’ve realized how internalized some limiting beliefs have become, especially as a minority. My classmates just assumed that since I was there and Black, I must have received help or scholarship funding, but that wasn’t the case. I realize now that I felt like an imposter and wasn’t talking with many classmates, even though I learned how to speak up in a corporate setting.” She went on to share how this motivated her to step into leadership roles to create networking opportunities for underrepresented women to meet and receive support from other women. “I would love for this poem to convey the peace available within clarity,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

The Restless Nest

Three stories
up there’s a
tree-top
backdrop,
where
summer’s
green is
holding
a nest.
When the
storms roll in,
it’s protected well
so life may find its pace.
There’s a spinning top there,
that’s made this nest its home, and it’s
moving in every direction. It spins and spins
and spins and spins as it rides the currents of the winds.
Wind surfing is a scary sport, but this nest,
a blessed arena. When summer ends and
the leaves drop orange, it’s true the
nest may fall. But either way
will be just the same,
because by then,
the seasons
will
have
changed.

And by then the top will have spun so much, it will have shed what needed to go.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“There is so much movement happening,” she began, “and somehow it’s among the stillness.” This woman shared that she felt like she was starting over in many ways. Recently she had moved to a new state, her two daughters had moved back in with her after graduating from college, and she had begun a new graduate degree program. All of this happened while she was working remotely and developing new ways to serve patients. “How can I be so still and so exhausted at the same time? I am taking in and processing so much more information now,” she said. “I feel like a spinning top, moving in every direction at the same time.” She went on to share that her new third-floor apartment overlooked beautiful trees, making the new place feel like a nest. “In the morning, on my balcony, I’m able to feel one with nature, with the birds. I feel like this is a safe nest for movement, for starting over, and for learning how to shape-shift,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

The Tale of Two Worlds

I’ve been thinking
about the luxury
of a simple routine–
a steady job
working mostly from home;
exercise, cooking,
and space in between.
It’s a good one,
this routine.

At the same time,
I’ve been thinking about
how others are losing
their dreams.
So in this predictable
tale of two worlds,
from here on the fortunate side,
I’m simply bearing witness
instead of turning a blind eye.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“I’ve been thinking a lot about how much COVID seems to have amplified however people were doing beforehand. If you were doing well, you’re probably doing even better; if you were not doing well, you’re probably doing a lot worse,” he said. As a physician, he had been bearing witness to a lot of people whose struggles had only been made worse. “I don’t think this is anything new…it’s the tale of two worlds,” he said. “I may not have a house in the Hamptons, but I am on the really, really, really fortunate side. I have a steady job. I’m able to work from home, exercise, and cook. I’m in a routine — a good one. I realize it’s a luxury not everyone has,” he said.

Interviewee: Anonymous
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Sacrifice

“give until it hurts”
has been her mantra at work–
hurting numbs the pain

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“The pandemic has taught me a lot about the cost of my own sacrifices,” she said. This woman was a hospitalist who worked on the front lines during the COVID-19 surge in Boston. “I have a mantra at work: ‘give until it hurts.’ I believe I’m here to give of myself through acts of service,” she said. She also expressed this was how she viewed her relationships with her four children and her spouse. The pandemic had been an incredibly stressful time at home. After the surge got under control, she was spending more time at home than ever before. “I was suddenly trapped in my house and I didn’t realize the extent that traveling had been a solace for me; a way to escape and have my own downtime. Now I was forced to come face-to-face with my kids and my spouse. Everything became so concentrated, and I came head-to-head in all of my personal relationships,” she said. She was wrestling with many questions related to her identity, including, “Who am I in all of this?”

Interviewee: Anonymous
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Contemplation

David clearly won the battle, but
You wouldn’t know it by his face:
Turned up and away unreadably,
Struck by a purposeful ray of light
You can’t know what he’s thinking

But is knowing the point?
Trying to read him is a challenge
And if your soul hurts you,
Wrestling against sharp-toothed ambiguity,
Maybe you relied too much on certainty
In the first place

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

For the past fifteen years he had been creating workshops for young medical students at an art museum. He believed that the systemic issue of burnout in the field of healthcare could be mitigated by training healers in the emotional resilience necessary to witness suffering and death on a regular basis. By encouraging students to contemplate the complexities of artwork, he could help them build the emotional intelligence and openness to ambiguity that were rarely sufficiently covered in traditional medical education.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Educator
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

Heartbeats

The human heartbeat creates
A regular pulse,
A pounding anticipation,
A jump of non-expectation

This, the rhythmic flow
Of life
Fills the atmosphere
That we all share. And yet
Life gets away from us,
We fall into external cadences
Our hearts beat off-kilter,
Our wavelengths lose harmony
We dance to artificial refrains
And we embrace rational thought

As we search for alignment,
We recall that life flows
Through all of us
Our hearts beat uniquely. We
Learn to harmonize their tides
We allow our pulses the courage to
Waltz with each other,
Connecting our spirits and
Restoring our wholeness

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This woman’s career involved teaching medical students and physicians how to communicate, empathize, and connect with other people. It thrilled her that although the science-minded people she worked with were regulated and driven by structure and theory, they could not succeed without human connection. Every doctor she knew was driven by some scientific fascination that had its underpinnings in empathy for humanity. She loved helping science-minded people become more comfortable with empathy and human connection and was fulfilled by the corresponding improvements that she saw in health outcomes.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Educator
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

In Touch

All this time I’ve been
Held to a high standard
Of detachment, and
It doesn’t really serve me
It presents itself as resilience,
As perseverance,
As necessary
But all of that is a lie
No one is detached as they
Head into another surgery
After watching a child die

The falsehood is a heavy one,
But I was convinced otherwise
I thought I let things go
As they came,
But really I pushed them down
And they built up inside me
Until I was incapacitated

Did you know that up to fifty percent
Of people who do this work
Experience PTSD?
Maybe it isn’t to you,
But this was news to me
So now every day I work to make sure
That it isn’t for others
I spend my life making sure that
The future is connected

The high standard of the future
Is being in touch

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He was a pediatric physician with a focus on heart issues. Most of his career had involved high-intensity heart surgery on children. Many of them died. Because of the intensity of the job, the work culture implicitly stressed the values of strength and detachment in the face of deeply emotional experiences. After years of bottling things up, the weight of his work began to adversely affect him. He started avoiding interacting with families as much as possible because of the painful empathy that it required, and he became angry and closed off in his home life. After he lost a close friend and colleague to suicide from these same pressures, he realized that neither of them had been dealing with work experiences in healthy ways. He learned that empathy, reflection, connection, and introspection were essential parts of their daily work. In his new role arranging curriculum for medical students, he worked hard to emphasize the importance of these skills in any medical career.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

Juxtaposition

It’s a different experience
To teach mostly online
It’s harder to connect with my students
On video calls
Than it is in person
And I never know if I should be looking
At their faces,
For authenticity
Or at the camera,
For eye contact

But if someone forgets the name
Of their prescription,
They can just go get it
And if we interview a child,
We see them in their natural habitat
And we can do so much more
With these advantages
It’s not a bad thing
To teach mostly online
But it’s different

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

Every year he taught and advised a small group of eight or nine medical students, meeting with them in person two or three times a week. This year was the first time that most of these meetings were on Zoom. It was frustrating not to be able to interact with students the same way he used to, but there were also advantages to meeting online. Reflecting on the shift, he kept returning to the juxtaposition of opportunities and challenges that his group was experiencing as they embarked on the new style of learning together.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

Seasons

colour, bursting
behind my eyelids;
I possess it alone
awe of nature
and humanity
tucked inside my heart,
hammering to escape and
diffuse into the world
I have all of the love,
but passing it on is
no longer simple
I’ve learned new ways to
share the joys of life
I let go,
I breathe in
anew

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a few years ago and it had changed his life. He was a doctor and a college professor, and the disease had taken a huge toll on his ability to express emotions in conversation. Everything he experienced still gave him strong emotional reactions, but he could no longer physically express them like he used to. In the past, his expressiveness and empathy were some of his strongest teaching tools, and without them, it was much more difficult to engage learners. He had decided to retire and seek joy and self-expression in new ways, but hoped to stay in the social circle of the college forever.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

Getting Back To The Human

everything has changed
this tragedy breathes new life
I am so inspired

sometimes I wonder
if I’m doing the right thing
I reflect; I am

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She loved kids and was in her second year of residency to become a pediatric medical professional. There was a lot of administrative work to do, so she had to work really hard to find time to spend with the children receiving care. She sometimes wondered if she should have chosen a job where spending time with them was more central. She always arrived back at the conviction that she was in the right career. The pandemic had caused her to step back and reevaluate what was important to her, which had given her a burst of energy to start new projects at work. Lately, she was focused on initiatives that recognized patients’ humanity and aimed to leverage it to improve the quality of care they received.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Resident
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

The Human Surgeon

I’m a physician, no doubt
I delay gratification
All last year I did the grunt work
So this year I see the patients

I work wildly long hours
And I’m comfortable with that
I’ll do this to be a doctor
But there is a caveat

When I’m finally done with training
I won’t work myself to death
I reject the expectation that
I must to earn respect

The one thing I hold closely
And hope never to lose sight of
Is that I am human too
Irreducible to my title

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“You can be the president of your field and be defined by your professional title, or you can be a great surgeon and a mom and your own person.” This woman was in her second year of residency for general surgery. She’d worked long and hard hours as a medical student, but recognized and accepted that this was part of the process to become a doctor. Recently she had finished a four-month placement in trauma surgery which had been incredibly taxing. She was looking forward to cooking, hanging out with friends and family, exercising, and doing other things she hadn’t had time for before. She held her dedication to becoming a fantastic surgeon and her excitement to live a full life alongside each other with pride and confidence.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Resident
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

Decision Fatigue

My professional voice
Makes choice after choice
As we descend into the unknown

It’s the right thing to do
But it’s difficult too
Deciding things all alone

My normal decisions
Are made with precision;
The guidance of our past

Now every assertion’s
Emotional exertion
Makes me wish it were the last

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“I feel like I have decision fatigue,” she told me. It was normal for her to make many choices at work, but COVID had dramatically increased the number of medical decisions she had to make at home. She was the only medical professional in her immediate and extended family. Many of these choices were difficult and emotional, and many carried consequences for herself, her husband, and her three children. It was exhausting and overwhelming to deal with all of the decisions that were falling (rightfully, but still) on her shoulders.

Interviewee: Anonymous
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

Legacy

The fingertips of the past
Brush over our lives
Their work unchanging yet
But changeable
For history is an eternal creature
Which contains a human lifespan
In one breath
Let us make this breath laboured
So that the next one may wash
Over an equal society

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This woman had hope that the current momentum of the racial justice movement would continue far into the future. She thought a lot about the history of systemic racism in the United States and how inequalities and injustice do not merely change over time without social pressure to do so. Increased knowledge, love, and diversity in all spaces were important elements of the collective effort she saw as essential to creating true change. She looked forward to a world where cycles of racial injustice were disrupted by these virtues and society could begin to heal from generations of trauma.

Interviewee: Anonymous
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

Search for Solidarity

I’ve been having a lot of trouble
Finding my place in all of this
I’m asking myself how I can help
But it keeps getting more complicated

I’m trying to figure out how
To support you however I can
Without pretending to know better,
To listen deeply to your experiences
But not demand that you educate me,
To share my vulnerability
Without invalidating yours,
To distinguish between instinct
And reality

I don’t feel all that safe right now
I’m losing hope as I watch the world
But I cling to resources and hope
And I search for an appropriate solidarity

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“I feel like the more I learn, the less I know.” The political unrest in the country was highlighting a spirit of divisiveness that was causing this woman to feel hopeless. She had recently attended a conference on anti-racism that had ended early and abruptly because of triggers and trauma during the discussion. It was a disappointment because it heightened her sense of hopelessness about how divided people were. During the conference, people were asked to express their feelings, and she did so, but then felt hers were discounted as she was perceived as a privileged white woman crying about racism. Colleagues would share their experiences and ask everyone to listen, but when she said she wanted to listen and learn, they told her it wasn’t their job to educate her and she needed to educate herself. This was upsetting because she was not asking them to educate her; she was only trying to affirm her willingness to listen. She knew that it was an extremely traumatic topic for many people, and she wanted to do everything she could to combat racism, but she increasingly felt she couldn’t contribute meaningfully – that her support was not welcome. She always tried to be a respectful and mindful ally, but now it felt like she couldn’t do anything right.

Interviewee: Anonymous
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

What We Leave Behind

I’d like to propose a toast
To the thoughts we leave behind
And the objects that we don’t
Whose only value ceased with life

I don’t want many things
To commemorate my time
But if one of them’s an object,
Then I’ll make damn sure it’s wine

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

The previous year, one of his close colleagues had passed away just before her house flooded. Almost everything in it had been completely destroyed. In helping to clean it up, this man had come into possession of several bottles of wine she’d owned. Recently, he had been reminded of her when he grabbed a random bottle of wine to bring to a dinner party and it turned out to be one of hers. Since then he’d been thinking about how little she’d left behind physically and how much she had left behind in so many other ways. He was inspired by her strength, wisdom, and kindness. Reflecting on these things, he hoped to leave almost nothing physical behind when he died. Instead, he hoped to be remembered by his life’s work and the impact that he’d had on others.

Interviewee: Anonymous
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

Positive Reframer Extraordinaire

I thought I was done.
Baked!
Oh, life!
You didn’t follow the plan.
Turned out you have some more
lessons for me.

Of course
I knew I couldn’t
change other people.
But I’m learning that I can
change me.
I’m in an in-between place right now.
I’ve been stuck in some areas.

Right now,
we’re all in between,
living through this experience
of uncertainty.

I need to connect with myself,
not get sabotaged by worry, loneliness.

My body is teaching me wisdom.
Connecting me to my true self —
intuition, that inner knowing.

We’re all reframing our connections,
while a screen frames our faces.

You and I connected —
even across this screen.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She was in a period of shifts and personal growth. Before, she had been trying her hardest to do what she could, work as hard as she could. Now, she realized that, while she was appreciative and warm, she had not been as connected to intuition, to her true self. She said she wanted a poem that would show our connection, especially during this time when connections were being reframed, rethought.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Administrator
Listener Poet: Katherine Gekke

Intention

This is not *just*
a virtual doctor’s lounge; it’s a
space as sacred as the
Hippocratic Oath,  intended for
witnessing,  holding, validating,  

indwelling. 

This is a space
to be faithful
to the opportunity
that presents itself
in every moment–
not physician to physician,  but
human to human.  

This is a space
for honoring identity,  dignity;
for building  mutual trust.  

This is a meeting place for the
souls.
May all who enter
leave feeling seen.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This woman was a physician and medical educator. She was preparing to launch a peer support endeavor she called a “virtual doctor’s lounge.” “It feels nostalgic, because lounges used to be safe places where physicians could connect with other people,” she said. “Opportunities for that kind of connection seem to have gone by the wayside,” She wanted to spend some time reflecting on her intention for the space, and what she wanted the experience to be like for others who visited. “I want to do right by people when they come into the space. I want to develop sacred trust, honor the stories I’m entrusted with, and see every person in their own identities and with dignity,” she said. “I’d like people to leave knowing someone will be here if they ever need to reach out. I want them to leave feeling heard, appreciated, and respected.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Educator
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Freedom

Welcome to America! The land
Of the free. The land
Of individuals. The land made strong by  Civil
liberties! and
Individualism! And, most strikingly, The land
that is collapsing 
— being allowed to collapse — 
(In emulation of
So many evolutionary trajectories) In
serving these values. 

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

As a clinical immunologist working on the front lines of healthcare, this man was exposed to the politics of pandemic mask-wearing every day. He noticed how highly valued individualism was in America. The country he had grown up in was much more collectivist. It was fascinating for him to trace the current defiant resistance to mask-wearing back to the concept of civil liberty that was entrenched in America’s constitution hundreds of years previously. Observing how other more collectivist countries had shut down the pandemic right away, while the United States floundered to unite, was incredibly frustrating.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

Times of Good and Grim

I’ve been a doctor
for three months
during a global pandemic
during an election year
everything is urgent 

I treat children
(not adults)
but we’re spreading a disease as
dangerous as COVID
that shows itself every day

power dynamics
proving “good fit”
microaggressions
disconnection
politicization of health 

How have the rest
been doing this for so long?
Have they adapted and grown strong? Or just
learned to disconnect to move on to the next? 

Is it possible to serve patients without
taking from myself?
Without taking from each other? Can I hold
my values close enough  to keep them clear,
untouched?  

I’ve been a doctor
for three months–
these are my struggles
still, I’m committed 
to doing as much good as I can

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“Oh, what isn’t on my mind lately?” she began. This woman was a first-year pediatrics intern living in Boston. She’d just moved across the country to begin her medical career, so was away from her immediate family. She also had extended family that lived in India, and had recently learned her uncle and grandmother had contracted COVID. Though they were both doing well, she didn’t know how she could help care for or advocate for them, being so far away and in another country, even though she was a doctor. She’d been feeling a similar sense of disconnect in her daily work, seeing first-hand the ways in which microaggressions and unconscious bias were playing out in the hospital setting. She felt uncertain about how to address them, especially in her role. She was also struggling with how to balance caring for herself with caring for others, and noticing the pressure of needing to prove herself in some instances, especially as a person of color at the lower end of the power structure. She was holding many contradicting and complex questions, while at the same time optimistic about what was possible. “I want this to feel hopeful, but maybe by sharing these contrasting and messy truths, those of us who feel similarly will also feel less lonely,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician (Intern)
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

To Feel

I would like to feel skin
I would like to feel touch
I would like to feel patients’ hands  unceasing,
squeezing, disbelieving 

I would like to feel loss
I would like to feel alone
I would like to feel my stomach sinking, upending,
emptying everything  

I would like to feel grief
I would like to feel agony
I would like to feel my heart ripped apart,  repair
impossible, never unsevering 

I would like to feel afraid
I would like to feel rage
I would like to feel terror uncontrolled; heat, body,
blood trembling 

I would like to feel sorrow
I would like to feel swelling
I would like to feel salt-streaked cheeks releasing
concealing; healing  

I would like to feel connected
I would like to feel divinely connected I would like to feel soul
returning to source, opening, tethering, remembering 

I would like to feel anything…

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

“I would like to feel,” she began. “As physicians, we’re too good at putting our feelings aside. Someone once told me I was great at compartmentalizing, and meant it as a compliment. It’s not a good thing.” This woman was an OB-GYN and medical educator. She shared that it had been difficult to lose the ability to sit with a patient and hold their hand because of all the PPE they’re required to wear now. “I don’t know how we’ll come to terms with what we’ve lost; it’s not ever going to be what it was, and that’s terrifying. At the same time, there is a sense of resilience and beauty that underlies it all, and this time has brought me in touch with the divine and nature in a way like never before,” she said. “I would like to feel the loss, the grief, and the connection.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Educator
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Justice

Pollution is smothering our cities. Fire is consuming  our forests.
Acidification is changing the chemistry  

of our oceans. We are encroaching into natural spaces where we’re not
supposed to be…and bringing back disease. 

Climate change is the greatest threat we’ve ever had  to human
health. COVID has cast a dye, revealing 

system after system, broken in our societies. It’s no  surprise those
living in poverty and people of color  

are suffering the most. We must look this moment  in the eye.
And with clear seeing, choose 

to relate to our Earth, and each other, as if we are each other. Maybe
we are each other. We must find  

the courage, imagination, and determination  to restore right
relation with Earth, first,  

before we rob our children of their future. We can  do this. We have
what we need. We will see justice  

when we include more than just us. Justice is the public  expression of love,
and we were built to love  

all that lives and all that nurtures other life.  It is time for us to learn
how to love Mother Earth,  

so we can remember how to love one another.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He was a primary care physician and medical educator whose work centered around health equity and justice. He deeply desired to be part of a care-giving society with a more conscious social contract. As a physician, he understood the biological side of health, but also saw the urgent need to address the upstream issues that cause systemic inequities, health disparities, and racial and climate injustice. “Climate change is the greatest threat we’ve ever had to human health,” he said. “I believe in humans–and that we’re made of really good stuff. We can heal from our history. We’re at a critical moment in time, and our ability to care for the planet impacts our ability to care for each other. I’d like for this poem to hold the gravity and clear-eyedness of the issues of justice and moral imperatives we face in this moment in time. But I’d also like for it to remind us that we have what we need. Love will be the engine that keeps us going, and we were built to love.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician/Faculty
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

Collective Awareness

Malicious forces
find ways to
get to
you. I tried not
to let this one
interfere,
but it was
precisely
in doing so
that it got me. I didn’t  sleep for
weeks,
insistent
that I was only
manageably
affected.
But ultimately, I
had to do something
about it.
I saw that
other people were starting to see.
I felt my pain
merge with theirs;
collective trauma
fuelling.
I felt the burden of
awareness
leave me,
diluted:
freed outwards

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

As a third-year medical student, it had been hard for her to make time for protesting when the Black Lives Matter movement was reignited. However, after a few weeks of the protests, she realized that she needed to go. She hadn’t been able to sleep well since they began and she was struggling to focus on anything else, including schoolwork. At the first protest she attended, she realized just how many people shared her outrage and pain regarding systemic racism and police brutality. As the months passed, she witnessed a new awareness of these problems spread through society. Meeting so many people working towards a better world and seeing how much more aware people were of systemic racism and police brutality helped her to feel empowered, hopeful, and less alone in these issues.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Elle Klassen

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

Belated Goodbye

The sadness seems to deepen
every time I remember
the ending that had no closing 

I’m left with a lingering feeling,  wondering:
what is it like
to lose a doctor? 

Do you know how much I cared?  How
much I still care?
How often I still think about you? 

We never had a chance to say goodbye, or cry,
or hug, or toast
to honor all those years 

Now today, all I can do
is offer this apology into the ether and hope it
will find its way to you

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

A few years ago, this physician had given up her practice to move into a medical administrative role. She told me she’d needed to leave because of the circumstances at the clinic and the stress of a clumsy and reviled electronic medical record system. Now, she missed the connection with patients. She regretted not adequately saying goodbye or having more closure, especially with her long-term patients. She recounted the story of one particular patient with whom she had developed a strong connection over more than two decades. “She might not know how much I actually cared about her; how much I still do,” she said. “Maybe she felt like I just dropped her; like there was no ending.” She wanted the poem to give words to the disappointment and sadness she still felt today about the lack of closure with this particular patient. She wanted to offer an apology, as if she were talking to her patient.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Becoming

This year, I found my voice. I found my leadership. I rose to the occasion even though I didnt know 

how to do what needed to be done. I had to battle  my demons. Ask again and again: what really matters? 

I had to make hard decisions that deeply impacted  other peoples lives. I was afraid; drained. I doubted.  

At the same time, I trusted my heart.
I led with integrity, care and compassion. 

“You inspired and encouraged us,” they said.  “If you could keep going, we knew we could too.” 

This year, I learned to stand in my power–in the fullness of wholeness. I lifted others up, in.  

Then just when I thought I reached the place  I was meant to be, life called me back to becoming.  

“Are you willing to let go again?” it asked.  I knew I had learned how to stand, centered.  

Now, I was ready to fly, untethered
and say yes, once again: I choose adventure.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This woman had stepped into a new leadership role at her academic medical center just before COVID arrived. She had been part of her organization for more than twenty years, but moving into this new position was a big step in her journey. She was now responsible for a 7,000 person workforce.

“It’s been a deep evolution,” she said. “I’ve really found my voice and my leadership in this extremely challenging time. Leadership is lonely, and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s been beautiful.” She went on to share some of the challenges she had faced, and that it had been her goal for a long time to make it to this position she was finally in. “And then, out of nowhere, another opportunity came along to do something different. I know I have to say yes. I will be transitioning into that new role at the end of the year,” she said.

“Since I know I tend toward safety, I made a commitment to myself a long time ago that I would choose adventure instead of the easy path. And I know this is an opportunity for me to be in the tension of becoming,” she said. It was clear this woman had touched many lives, and would continue to do so wherever her path in life led her.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Administrator
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Art Is Medicine

On his best day,  he’s
out hunting human
emotion on the busy
streets of New York
City with his camera. 

He captures what
brings feeling &
shares, caringly in
times when he sees
others need positive
energy.

Neurology is his
medical specialty &
photography is  his
passion–both reveal a
lot and  both heal a lot.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He was the kind of person who was always trying to positively impact those around him. He was a neurology resident who loved street photography. He loved to share interesting stories, art, information, and resources with his peers and colleagues, but he hadn’t done as much of that as he would have liked this year. He was stressed and feeling more burnt out than usual. He told me that this year had been brutal. He normally got energy and inspiration from street photography in large, busy cities, but now, with states restricting visitors due to COVID-19, he wasn’t able to do that. “I rely on these environments, where humans are everywhere; they’re so filled with life. I love to capture what brings feeling,” he said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Resident
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Anything but Numb

We’re taught to separate
our selves, 
com part mentalize,
move on
to the next task
numb. 

I woke up to the news today
that we’d likely lose him. 

I woke up his daughter today
to tell her this news. 

She wasn’t expecting it.
He’d had a transplant;
was doing well, until
he wasn’t. 

Separate your self, they’d say.
An. Impossible. Task. 

I was part of the story;
the story was part of me.  

Yes, I felt the grief. Deeply.
I also witnessed the beauty
as a father died with his children
and with his wife by his side. 

  A gift only some receive.  

Love. Grief. Loss.
Beauty. Pain. Peace.  

  Not-a-one comes from numb.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This person was a fellow working with cancer patients. She shared that it had already been a difficult day because she lost one of her patients in the morning. “I ended up waking up his daughter with the news that her father had become very sick, and may die today,” she said. “It’s hard to be the one to convey that news.” She told me the family was able to make it to the hospital before he passed. While it was incredibly sad to witness their experience of grief, she also saw the beauty in it because she had seen so many others die alone over the past year. “It reminded me that grief is proof there was love. But they don’t teach us what to do with our grief. We’re taught to separate ourselves; move on,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to slow down and share about this. As I do, I can feel the tingling in my shoulders; I can feel my body relax. I’d like the poem to be a reminder that it’s okay to feel.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

A Poem for Re-membering

What do you need to remember today? 

Maybe it’s that your senses
are the language of your body,
and your body, the portal to your soul. 

Maybe it’s that worthiness
has little to do with what you do
because it’s a birthright of all life. 

Maybe it’s that your children
are your compass; your way forward appears  by orienting toward what will follow. 

Maybe it’s that when you stand in the light, there will always be a shadow, which
carries important information too. 

Maybe it’s that remembering means more
than accessing memories from the past; it’s piecing together the disconnected parts. 

Maybe it’s that the, misplaced comma
that breaks a seamless flow, wants you to take your time; create more space for slow. 

Maybe it’s that attention follows intention, and intention is always inspired by interaction with life itself.

Maybe it’s that every time you read this poem, you see something new, because poetry can only be a momentary reflection of you.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He wanted a poem about our shared humanity and our resilience as a community. “I believe we each have a role to play in civil society and in our own communities,” he began. “The fear, discord, anxiety, and dissonance are symptoms of our current state of community, and I’d like this poem to be an aspirational offering as a path forward.” His personal core mission as an individual was to be a good role model for his children. He expressed that he was deeply committed to taking action as an individual, a community member, a father, a physician, and an American. He often contemplated the alignment of these various layers of effort. He also constantly asked himself what more he could do now, in the face of a pandemic and institutional, systemic racism, to uplift, aspire, and inspire. Though he wasn’t dejected, he did struggle with the question, “Is what I’m doing enough?” Lastly, he shared that poetry had been an important expressive tool for him. “Injecting humanity and humanities into science is of great importance to me,” he said. “I’d like this poem to really cause me to think; I’d like to interact with it.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Staff
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

Residency During COVID-19

I am the young energy, the work hour violator.  I become better than you at inserting central lines and ventilation tubes and delivering bad news  because I have done these things so often this year.  

I stand in your adapted M&M sessions
against a screen of black boxes  

presenting my choices, mistakes, re-earning  the privilege of touching a patient’s neck or chest.  

I mix optimism and realism.
We will get through this together.
My 24-hour mask marks, my scars
remind me what we have survived already.  

I reap the benefit of your surgical training,  of the beaten down indentured servitude
endured by us PGY-question-marks:
I get to make people feel better and send them home.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

A graduate of medical school is technically a doctor. But even PGY4 (Post-Graduate Year Four) medical residents are treated harshly by attending physicians, nurses, and other OR staff, she said, until they become attendings themselves. As a surgical resident, she accepted this as a necessary process of earning trust in the operating room. The constant correction, criticism, and scrutiny increased her capacity to save lives. In this fast-paced pandemic, it was ever more important.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Resident
Listener Poet: Frankie Abralind

How I Knew What I Wanted to Be

I assumed I would just be wheeled  into the operating room, unconscious, but she held my hand; introduced me  to the entire surgery team. 

As I fell asleep, she told me  that everything would be  

ok when I woke up; 

then I could start fresh. 

She made me feel 

valued and cared for,  

safe, less afraid;  

she was my doctor.  

Because of her 

what I remember 

is not the pain and hurt; 

I remember the care. 

She showed me what  

I wanted to be… 

I wanted to give to others  

what she had given to me– 

love, kindness, compassion, care; a light at the end  

of the tunnel, revealing beauty  in the tragedy.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

This woman was in her fourth year of medical school. She told me she intended to become an OB-GYN, and her reason for choosing this path was very personal. “When I was in my 2nd year of medical school, I hadn’t yet done my OB-GYN rotation. I was pregnant and began to have complications around 20 weeks. I ended up needing to go into surgery knowing I would lose the baby. What I remember most is not the pain and hurt, but instead how my doctor treated me. I did not expect her to go out of her way to make me feel so valued and cared for. It was a very difficult time, but so much beauty came from this pain because I realized as a physician, I wanted to be able to do for others what she had done for me,” she said. Now, two years later, she had a healthy one-year-old. “I was able to work with the same doctor and providers throughout my 2nd healthy pregnancy, and it was such a gift. I gained such clarity about where I want to take my medical career and I have seen first-hand how much beauty can come from tragedy,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

A Lot Goes on in the ICU

It sounds dramatic to say we leave little pieces  of our souls everywhere we go, but in the ICU,  

it’s true. We cause a lot of pain in order to  alleviate pain. We can’t let emotion cloud  

our judgment (I couldn’t do what I have to do,  if I saw every patient as my grandmother). 

But disconnecting can also get us in trouble– emotion is a double-edged sword. I need to feel  

to have compassion. I need to feel to remember  the patient is screaming for a reason.  

One upside of critical care medicine is that we’re  not fighting insurance companies to get patients  

what they need. One question guides us:  what can we do to save the patient’s life? 

A lot of times, lives are saved. A lot of times,  lives are lost. Sometimes life is simply left behind  

because the burdens are too heavy to carry. And when  my shift ends, and I go home to my ten-year-old dog,  I set it all aside. After all, a lot goes on  in the ICU, and I’ll be back again tomorrow.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

She wanted this poem to feel empowering, given the magnitude and complexity of the work she did every day. As difficult as it was, this person loved working in the ICU. She described the many pressures of caring for critically ill patients, as well as the unique aspects of critical care medicine that drew her to it. “I’m still trying to figure out how to cope with it all,” she said. “After a day in the ICU, it’s hard to talk to other people; I need time to recharge on my own.” She told me that she knew patient stories were often untold because the care team had to be so focused on people’s illnesses and keeping them alive. “As providers, we forget how to come back to the humanity. We forget patients are people, too.” she said. “But our priority is saving lives, so we do what we need to do in order to be able to think on our feet and stay focused.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Medical Student
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

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