No metaphor in Obudu

Condensed from warm shadows,
She appeared with silent ox-eyes, yellowed;
Her feverish infant sweating,
Head pressed on flaccid breast.
I bid her sit; and so we sat
Side by side on a wooden bench
In the warm evening shadows.

Slowly, she undid the drape
That held the babe against her breast,
Pulled off the woolen cap;
His curls matted with feverish brine.
He had his mother’s eyes,
Yellow to the core.
Shallow pants of airy puffs
Stroked his jaundiced palate.

In this last hour of this last day
I begged a course of drugs,
Slipped the packet of pills
Into the mother’s moist palm.
When we boarded the bus, I wondered
Which would run out first—
The ten-day supply of medication or
The tiny racing heart?

In vain I searched my mind
For metaphors, just one;
But none crystallized in the grey
Matter of my cerebrum,
None sprung forth as Athena
From the tightness in my chest.

2012©Brian T. Maurer

JAAPA’s 25th anniversary poetry contest winners announced

“Why poetry?” you might ask. Why indeed? Of the many venues available to validate the human condition, poetry is perhaps the most poignant. In a poem, we see the pathos of both practitioner and patient laid bare, crystallized before our eyes, whispered under the ebb and flow of our collective breath. Poetry presents the human heart with its joys and sufferings, trials and travails. But what, you might ask, does that have to do with the practice of medicine? more»

Interested readers may access the winning poems in JAAPA’s 25th anniversary poetry competition here. JAAPA is the official journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Walt Whitman, 1887

Poetry in medicine: Chapter and verse

In a previously published Musings blog entry, A plea for poetry in medical practice, I wrote:

Poetry (as well as good literature) is capable of stimulating the development of empathy in the reader—in this case, the clinician—and serves to enable him or her to approach the patient with an element of understanding and compassion. Such an approach undergirds the delivery of quality medical care.

In that piece I advocated for the inclusion of poetry in the medical curriculum to cultivate empathy on the part of clinicians toward their patients:

“It isn’t that clinicians are totally thoughtless people,” I opined. “In many instances they just never learned to appreciate what it might be like to stand in the patient’s shoes.”

On the heels of these words how heartened I was to peruse Dr. Pauline Chen’s recent New York Times column The Doctor as Poet, for here Dr. Chen expresses the same sentiment. more»