Art & Poetry in Medicine, Clinical, Internal Medicine
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Leaving My Heart at the Door

It’s an uncanny power: a superhuman feat
Though some find it grotesque: a form of deceit.
But I have the power when I need to stay calm,
To take my heart out and then carry on.
I open my chest, push the vessels aside
And pluck out my heart to keep tears from my eyes.
It renders me impassive, so I can’t feel at all.
And, in the face of despair, I can stand tall.
In the face of suffering, I push my feelings apart
Not burdened by the sorrow of a commiserate heart.

It’s ten after ten when the first page beeps through.
They’ve called me to pronounce bed nine-twenty-two.
My feet drag through halls until I find the right spot,
But the cries from the room tie my stomach in knots.
The wails of despair slice me to my core:
Curses and prayers like I’ve not heard before.
I muster my strength, but alas, I need more.
So, I take out my heart and leave it by the door.
I still demonstrate compassion so well it looks real,
But I keep my head together because I cannot feel.
I’m a watchful outsider to the chaos within
Only when all is done does my heart go back in.
There’s still pain in my chest; but it’s small, and I manage
To keep things in perspective while I survey the damage.
A colder mindset than such tasks deserve,
But my job isn’t to grieve — it’s to bear witness, observe
As I abandon the scene, the screams echo still,
But I hold myself together by sheer power of will.

At twenty past two, my pager beeps again.
I stumble through the dark to grab a paper and pen.
There’s a consult downstairs in section A-3:
A new diagnosis of cirrhosis with high LFTs.
I start with the history: a broad overview,
But the patient arrests when I’m just halfway through.
At first, my heart pauses: frozen from shock.
But, within a few seconds, I start to take stock.
There are blood-chilling sobs echoing from the door.
His wife, who stood watching, now kneels on the floor.
I want to offer comfort, but before I can start,
I place a hand in my chest and rip out my heart.
And that gives me strength to find the right way;
To arrange all the words that I have to say
And wait by her side until the code resolves
As we both hold our breaths, anticipating what will evolve.

When my call shift ends, I tuck my heart back in place
But leave my chest open; It needs breathing space.
The emotions are heavy, but with time, they will dull
And come back to haunt me when life starts to lull.
They’re strong, but I’m stronger, so for now, I’ll move on
Knowing I can take my heart out when it doesn’t belong.

Image credit: Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical (1887) by Internet Archive Book Images is licensed under  the public domain.

Beatrice Preti, MD Beatrice Preti, MD (5 Posts)

Fellow Physician Contributing Writer

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University

Beatrice Preti is a PGY-4 fellow in medical oncology at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University in London, Ontario.