In the poetry category, first-year medical student Danielle Schenone was honored for “More Than the Sum,” and graduate student Makandiwana Shoniwa (Biochemistry & Molecular Biology) for her poem, “Homecoming.”
In the prose category, fourth-year medical student Sephora Germain was honored for her piece, “The Funeral.” Timothy Vo, a third-year medical student, was selected for his work, “Bottle Rocket.” (Timothy also won last year’s prose award for his essay, “Gaining Wisdom.”)
In the faculty/employee poetry category, winners were Joan Cofrancesco (“Waiting Room”) and Ruth McKay MA (“An Everyday Thing”). In the faculty/employee prose category, the honorees were Ann Botash MD (“Whistling Willy’s Love Song”) and Lisa DeWilde RN (“Mitch”).
Winning entries are eligible to appear in the next issue of Upstate’s literary and visual arts journal, The Healing Muse, due out this October.
Here are the winning student entries:
They put Roc in a big brown box and there were different colored flowers all around. Roc was in a black suit. I had never seen him in this suit. Roc was sleeping. I wondered when he would wake. I hope next weekend we can play basketball. He told me if I beat him he would buy me ice cream. I really like cookies and cream. Roc’s mom Auntie Anne was crying why was she so sad. Cousin Janet was crying too holding onto Auntie Anne’s hand. I looked at my mom and her face was so sad. I ask my mom what was going on she said Roc died of cancer and was going to a better place. I ask my mom if I could go with him for Roc was my favorite cousin. The last time I saw Roc he threw up purple stuff, he looked skinny. I think he cut his hair. His voice was soft and because he was quiet I thought he was mad at me. But then he looked at me and said “James be a good boy one day we will play basketball all day.” I asked Cousin Roc when and he said soon. I wonder what it means when someone dies and cancer sounds like a big word.
My mother held my hand closely to her bosom as if she would never let it go. She shook forward and backwards. The hot water from her eyes hit the surface of my hands intensely. I looked down at my black suede skirt and saw the wetness from my own tears. I could not bear to see Roc like this. This was not the memory I wanted to have of him. My eyes shifted gently toward little James. He stared down at the casket with an expressionless face. I wondered if he understood. He wore a brown suit that tugged his body and would soon become too small for him. He had black penny loafer shoes. His head titled slightly to the right side. He gave a sigh of curiosity. But I would not do it. I would not be the one to tell him that Roc is gone. How could I tell him that Roc had already played his last game of basketball with him. After what seemed like an eternity James finally walked with his head down away from the casket. I wonder did he know.
First I felt the wind in my hair
The dryness of the air hit my face
This barren land that had been my home
I had come back to it
And they said you could never go home
I had left a girl full of dreams
I returned a woman consumed with regret
Barren of hope as the land that had birthed me
The acai trees moved in an ancient dance
A land where giants still walk
Elephant and giraffe – towering the acai
I had come back home
A woman changed to an unchanging land
I bore the scars of an innocence raped
Dwarfed by the burden of my reality
But in this barren land
The home I had once turned from
I found healing
The phoenix in me reborn
The barren land had borne fruit
The motherland embraced me at my darkest
Held me to her womb
Reminded me of whom I had been, whom I could be
And then I came to realize
You really never return home
The woman who returned was not the girl who left
Two spirits had walked this land
Two spirits, one body
When the diaspora has stolen the girl spirit
The woman she ran home
And Africa embraced her prodigal offspring
“More Than the Sum”
Dissect, prosect, resect,
Analyze, catabolize, memorize,
What it means to be organ, tissue, cell
Introspect, prospect, respect
Synthesize, visualize, realize
What it means to be human, mother, son
Heart, artery, vein
Pounding like a bass drum
Aching for long lost love
Pulsing after a steady run
Skipping a beat with expectation
Vein, artery, heart
Lung, trachea, larynx
Rejoicing at child’s first breath
Sighing at relief of arrival
Screaming at a horror movie
Singing with the windows rolled down
Larynx, trachea, lung
Stomach, liver, tongue
Tasting salt on a long beach stroll
Sipping chicken noodle soup on a sick day
Filling up on turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie
Drinking champagne to mark another year
Tongue, liver, stomach
Hand, finger, wrist
Grasping for parent’s reach
Comforting child’s bruised ego
Writing letters to a far away friend
Working tirelessly to support a family
Wrist, finger, hand
Leg, muscle, joint
Kicking inside a mother’s womb
Dancing with a handsome husband
Catching a ball with a heroic father
Rustling leaves on a fall morning
Joint, muscle, leg
Skin, hair, nerve
Tingling at the sound of beautiful music
Brushing a daughter’s ponytail before school
Touching a silken graduation cap
Feeling a wife’s hand in yours
Nerve, hair, skin
What makes the anatomy of a person
Heart, lung, stomach
Hand, leg, skin
Or aching, singing, sipping
Grasping, dancing, tingling
Remember these parts, now separated
By dissect, prosect, resect
Analyze, catabolize, memorize
Were once so much more than their sum
Introspect, prospect, respect
Synthesize, visualize, realize
What it means to be human
“Bottle Rocket” (excerpt)
“Did you hear? Mr. Olansky died last night,” Jen, the other med student on the team, said.
I blinked. She looked at my face, waiting for my reaction. I paused a couple beats.
“That’s terrible,” I said.
“The whole thing is just so f-ed up,” she said.
Jen was visibly shaken up. I put a hand on her shoulder and tried to be comforting. It didn’t seem like it was doing much so I frowned and turned back to my computer. I didn’t have time. I had other patients to get to, labs to notate, syndromes and treatments to look up before rounds in less than an hour. I went to examine my other assigned patients — “Good morning Mr. Green! And how are you feeling today? No more nausea? That’s great news.”
We talked about it on rounds for only a few minutes. “Olansky bled out last night at 0300. Night float began coding him but his family declined further interventions.” We all agreed how sad it was. We walked by his room, and an unfamiliar old lady was there, oxygen mask on, watching TV, unaware of what had happened there only a few hours ago.
“Where’s the chart for Ms. Grant? Did the ID consult drop a note yet?” someone said, as we walked briskly, purposefully down the hall together. I tried to put Mr. Olansky out of my mind. It wasn’t that hard.
Mr. Olansky had been my patient. He was, as my attending put it, a good learning case. He was a young guy in his early 30’s, a young professional, somebody I could see myself being in a few years, not someone that I’d expect to crash and die suddenly in the hospital. He was a medical curiosity, having developed severe cirrhosis after only a few years of alcoholism.
“This is Mr. Olansky, our 32 year old male in acute liver failure secondary to shock liver from esophageal varices hemorrhage, with hepatorenal syndrome,” I would begin on rounds before he died. The team around me would nod. I gave just the facts. I kept it short and sweet. . . .
Medicine asks of its practitioners, be both human and inhuman. Be empathetic, present with the patient, listening to their problems, treating them as if they were your own family members. But at the same time, be cold and analytical. Be detached enough to make the decision to pursue difficult, aggressive treatment. Be able to absorb death, relay the news to the family and move on quickly so that care of other patients does not suffer. One must care at the fullest, and one must be callous to the core.
A while ago, I had a meeting with my academic advisor. We talked about a lot of things, but one thing in particular stood out in my mind. He compared becoming a doctor to launching a spaceship into outer space. At the time the comparison seemed kind of trite.
These days it seems less and less so. The first two didactic years are like building the spaceship. You have to collect the parts, load it with fuel — the basic science. Then when the time comes you start working on the floors — finally your spaceship is completed, launched, hurtling through the air. At first, it seems incomprehensible, too fast, everything happening at once, in a way you’ve never experienced before. But you get used to the speed. Before you know it, you’re keeping up. You no longer have trouble making sense of the lab values, the scribbles of attendings. You stop feeling bad about waking patients at ungodly hours of the morning. You get used to sleeping less.
You stop looking at the attendings and residents as members of an alien race. Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and suddenly, you find that you have more in common with the people in the white coats than the people in the beds. Your spaceship is through the clouds, into the blackness. You’re out there. Alone, with the whole of humanity receding away from you, as you rise to join the other orbiting clinicians, in outer space.
All names have been changed to protect identities.