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'Why You? Why Now?' A Med Student's Journal

I guess doctors, especially doctors-in-training, have to get used to sudden, inexplicable endings. You are trained to heal. That's the goal, that's the point. But every so often, you don't win. Something you didn't see coming, comes. I don't know which hurts more, the 'suddenly' or the 'why?" If the patient is clearly dying, it's easier. You can prepare. But if a patient is mending, then the questions Shara asks in this quiet poem she wrote on her blog at Scientific American, This May Hurt A Bit, can boomerang, "why you? why now?"

Shara Yurkiewiecz is a third year medical student in Boston. She writes about what it's like to be in training. She wants to do this doctoring thing well, but she doesn't always know how. She feels so much. The stakes are huge. Sometimes, as you'll see here, she is simply stunned.


By Shara Yurkiewicz

We met on my birthday and
your age trailed mine by a week.
Your past medical history bare,
you let me see you sick.
You let me feel the margins
of your spleen,
your sexual history,
your confusion over why this
and why you
and what now
and what next.

I hated the political sticker on your phone
and your fever, untouched by medications
and the number of times I told you I didn't know.
"People think I'm weird, don't they?" you asked me.
Finally, an answer I knew
Your immune system
or your travel history
or your damn bad luck.

I punctuated your sleep
as a broken alarm clock
not set by you,
plus or minus 7 am.

Questions through a fog of semi-consciousness,
penlight in pupils,
hammer on knees,
wandering stethoscope on chest and back.

You told me why you lay awake at night,
afraid of falling unconscious and
staying there.
I told you why I hated medicine,
to please not tell anyone and
you didn't.

"I don't mean to sound negative," you told me.

Was it when you cried
when you learned to rewiggle your toes?
Was it when you laughed
when I helped you walk
with tiny steps
with wobbling gait
while looking down at feet that
couldn't quite feel the ground?
Was it when you promised
that you would rock climb again?

Was it on the last day I saw you?
Standing up
for the first time.
Clothes on over your gown
for the first time.
Your silhouette against the afternoon sun,
ready to walk out into it
on a healed body.
You did
for the first time.

Two sundowns go by and
I awaken at 6 am.
My unbroken alarm clock
urges me out of bed
to the hospital where you lie in bed
For the next hour
I brush my teeth,
while one mile away
they pound on your chest.

I arrive at the hospital as you leave.
Plus or minus 7 am.

Wherever you are now,
I remember where I left you.
Standing with the sun against your back.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Krulwich works on radio, podcasts, video, the blogosphere. He has been called "the most inventive network reporter in television" by TV Guide.