Brought to you by the students of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
I remember standing, age five,
in my mother’s sun-dappled kitchen,
watching as she performed domestic alchemy:
sugar, flour, eggs, a splash from the yellow-capped bottle of extract.
Vanilla and chocolate wafted in soft ribbons
and the promise of sweetness thickened the air.
As our cookies baked, my mother smiled down at me, saying,
“You can do anything, my darling. You are clever, and kind, and I love you.”
Now I see you, my third patient of the evening,
oddly gray under the clinic’s fluorescent lights.
You turn your head away as I perform my own magic:
I peer into your ears, percuss your lungs, auscultate your heart.
You tell me: “Vanilla extract is 40% alcohol, you know.
With your food stamps, get that, a gallon of milk, some sugar. It goes down easy.”
I pull your shirt down over your pallid skin and you say,
“Every night I close my eyes and pray that I won’t wake up.”
I remember waking from sleep, age eight,
after sneaking nearly an entire bowl of cookie dough,
(it was so sweet, and so right, and I couldn’t, wouldn’t stop)
to a million poison snakes licking fiery tongues up my insides, slicing me from within.
When I cried out in the dark, my mother was there, with tablets to chew and soft arms to hold me.
We rocked in her chair that night, back and forth, and she said:
“You will be fine, my darling. You are healthy, and strong, and I love you.”
You, my third patient,
Come to me a fifth of cheap vodka into your evening,
(“You don’t know nothin’ about addiction,” you say, “how it grabs you and you’ll do anything”)
with a million tiny daggers tearing holes in your chest, making you vomit blood.
You are too tired to cry out. All you have is me, with the stethoscope I just learned to use.
I hand you a plastic bag full of Tums and you look at me with your flat eyes and say
“Yeah, thanks. Maybe that’ll help.”
As you move to grab your coat,
I reach out- surprising both of us- and place my hand on your shoulder.
“Take care of yourself,” I say. “Come back if you need anything else.”
For a second,
we are both still-
and your eyes looking into mine are a little less empty.
Maybe you can hear what I mean to say:
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, my darling.
I wish you were well, and strong, and unbroken.
I wish that you lived in a world where you could do anything.
I wish you knew that here, in this moment, someone loves you.”
You nod, once, and turn away. My hand drops to my side as you move past me
and I watch the door, waiting for my next patient to walk through.
Copyright © 2012 Mentis
About the author:
Erin Armao is a first year medical student. She makes excellent chocolate chip cookies.
About the artwork:
"C.E.", by first year Connie Fu, is oil on canvas, 16"x20".
Copyright © 2013 Mentis