Indian Journal of Medical Ethics


I am only a student of medicine

Prateek Harne

Published online: June 23, 2018


I am only a student of medicine
Cannot prescribe the pills that may cure Mr G,
Just wheeled into the emergency,
A sixty something, ‘altered mentally’.

The resident and I march towards the unknown
She leads the way, I observe his worrisome knowns
His anxious family accompanying him
“Must feel nice”, I mumble fondly within.

My team gets to solving the pressing puzzle
Joining the dots, looking for the final piece
Voila! Cancer ‘mets’ and anti-anxiety meds
The rust behind his thinking valves and jets.

Brilliant minds have done it again
The family, though, is unsure whether loss or gain
They can’t help but see his inability to speak,
The frustration, the grimace of pain.

He lies there fighting the delirium,
His stare reminiscent of an empty aquarium.
His wife doesn’t shed a tear,
“We stay strong, it’s what he would hold dear.”

His daughters, inconsolable,
Perhaps missing their father’s laugh,
Alas, replaced by incoherent groans and wheezes
That escape his body, twisted with pain.

And I? What could I possibly do?
I am only a student of medicine
Can’t yet prescribe
The pills that may cure him

I flounder, even though he doesn’t worsen
Medicines were treating the disease, not the person
I betray my passivity and do what I know….
Listen and talk, and then listen some more.

What seems easy, has twined in their minds
I give them my time, leaving no questions behind
Each day is new, full of queries and challenges.
Some days look bright, others leave staggering balances.

Time and patience educate the family,
Love and compassion restore humanity.
This is every day now, like a righteous calling
Until G’s consciousness claws back slowly.

There are tears, there is joy, as this family unfurls
He mumbles his wife’s name and then his girls’
He sees me for the first time, baffled I believe
But I know him well, and I feel the upheave

The wife and daughters hug me, defences crushed
Inconsolable, their tears rush
Touched, I speak, almost spinally,

“I did not prescribe the pills that cured him.”

She replies softly and leaves me humbled,
‘You did much more, you didn’t let us crumble’
I could palpate that feeling, my defences fissuring
Tears rolling down with bodies leaning

Cognisance of the process of healing-
It’s never just pills, it’s a bigger deal
Someday I will prescribe, if it be so destined
But I can’t ever lose sight of true healing pristine

For I am not only a
student of Medicine
But the medicine that will heal him.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug
– Hippocrates [Modern version of the Oath].