This May Hurt a Bit

This May Hurt a Bit

The intuitions, insights, and growing pains of a medical student



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 fevers, 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.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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