Snail

Just because I need you to co-sign my physician notes

Doesn’t mean I’m codependent on you

You fire shots at my ego

Arrows fly through the air

You can’t hit a target that’s not there

Anxiety crushes me all day every day

I get back up every time, keep moving forward

Though the pummels are fierce and I’d rather rest

I give life my best

Though I could do better

I show up without fail

I am patient, like the snail

Workaholic

I went into medicine partly due to heartbreak

The exhaustive training of medical school and residency was a welcome albeit ineffective distraction from my sorrow and loneliness
24-hour shifts are a convenient justification for not keeping in touch with loved ones
Even though the real excuse is my social anxiety and sense of inadequacy
Living within hospital walls, I suspect that I am not the only physician who became a medical doctor to try to forget unrequited love, to escape the world of human relationships
My older colleagues work far more than they need to to make ends meet, far more than any reasonable person would work in a week
Who needs friends or feelings when you have patients and science?
Our skin grows pale under fluorescent lights
Our vision becomes shortsighted as the screens stare unblinkingly
Our hearts forget how to feel carefree
Our muscles atrophy as our brains hypertrophy
Our minds become boxed in with facts, our mental filing cabinets overflow
I am a recovering workaholic working alongside workaholics who do not appear to be in recovery
Perhaps they suspect the same of me
Heads down in the trenches, none of us can know another’s heart
We can only know our own heart, if we listen
We carefully administer medications, surgeries and therapies
We measure progress in numerical metrics of lab values, calculated scores and vital signs
We arrive early and stay late
We work day and night without a break
We always have too much on our plates
We deprive ourselves of sleep, fresh air and food
We know why we have irritable moods
Practicing medicine is an unhealthy, imbalanced lifestyle and we know it
We can only ever heal ourselves
I’m ready to show it
I am finally healing my broken heart
I found that I had to begin at the start
Childhood wounds tangle and bloom
Trauma begets trauma until we change our thoughts, words and actions
Breaking old patterns even as we hold traction
I am love itself, I am the source of what I sought
My cup overflows, it was not all for naught

Emergency Room

Emerging from the emergency room, gasping to find my breath, I weep.

I finished my last shift in that hell-hole, and I thought I would cry tears of joy, but instead I am crying tears of raw emotional release.
My patients called me an angel, but many of them were also angels to me- holding my spirit buoyantly with their sparkling eyes, a much-needed balance to my co-workers who seemed mostly dead inside.
Crushed inside the machine
Their eyes see only the screen
Their skin knows no fresh air or sunlight
As they toil day and night
In a crowded, chaotic space filled with alarms
Long ago, they replaced their charms
With rigid motions, mechanical minds
Without windows, they don’t notice the passage of time
When did they become so cold and bitter?
It must have been little by little
The fire in their hearts was starved of oxygen, their spirits wore away
I hope I keep my heartspirit intact, at the end of the day
Flashback to a line of gurneys in the ambulance bay
My attending grilling me, I didn’t know what to say
Broken bones and chronic pain
STAT CT to look for a bleed in the brain
Patients sustained on turkey sandwiches and diet ginger-ale
We wait on them, they wait for us, but we are all stuck in this jail
Trapped in a health care system which is systematically inhumane
No wonder so many of us don’t feel quite sane
My vision is blurred by tears
I’ve finished one more day in the middle of many hard years
Of sacrificing my life, enduring unfathomable strife
Just to help others survive another night
I want to get off this roller coaster, but I’m strapped in
Though I am sick to my stomach and deafened by the din
I return to my breath, breathe in new air
I have the rest of my life to move on towards
Tomorrow night, I’ll be back in the wards
With renewed gratitude, I leave this emergency beast
I walk past patients waiting to suckle the mechanical teat
Finally allowing room for my own emergency
My meltdown of tears isn’t enough to drown out the blaze
Which burnt me out long before today
I struggle to justify
Why I put myself in situations that make me cry

Our Job

Our job is to remember

As we bemoan each hard-won gray hair,

Our feet aching from pounding concrete hospital stairs

Our eyes bleary from early mornings and late nights

Our skin pale from days on end without sunlight

Our job is to remember

Behind every click, every key-stroke

Every beeper page, every flash of rage

As the patients we fight for are crushed by the system we work within

Our job is to remember

that the force behind all that we have done

and all that we will do

Is love

May reconnecting with that limitless force

Uplift us when we feel burdened

May it guide us when we drift astray

May it call us back when we don’t want to endure another day

When we struggle to see what our personal sacrifice is for

Rest assured, now and always,

Our job is love

Practicing Medicine

Medicine is a wondrous and messy mix

of science and art, of mind and of heart

as practitioners, we are the masters of this finger-painting renaissance

Even after all that we’ve discovered

about health and ills

Medicine remains

Full of mysteries still

We’ve come far but there is much further yet to go

though we will never know

all there is to know

Although the ideal may not meet the real

we practice medicine nonetheless

we practice when we’re feeling well

and we practice when we are under duress

We do our best and hope

that our patients will grant us patience

as we stumble on

welcoming new medical advances

with each breaking dawn

Our patients are the ones driving

the medical bus we ride without end

death does not stop our collective quest:

on the road of discovery, death is only a bend