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


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.
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


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


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
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


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”
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,

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


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
but it was
in doing so
that it got me. I didn’t  sleep for
that I was only
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
I felt the burden of
leave me,
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


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

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

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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