“We have explored the chest cavity and the abdominal cavity. It is now time to move onto the extremities, starting with the arms. I want you to unwrap the arms and study
It was 2010, and Haiti had just experienced a devastating earthquake that had affected hundreds of thousands of people. I was on a mission to Milot, in northern Haiti. It was my first medical mission. I was a bright-eyed, eager second-year
The unscreened windows were wide open, letting in both the breeze and buzzing flies. A chicken roamed about freely, unaware that it was in a surgical area. Off to the side sat a drying rack half-filled with “sterile” gloves, standing at attention like soldiers ready for inspection. In the center of the room lay a woman on the operating table, her feet in stirrups and her dress hiked up to her waist. She had delivered a
Sara H. Rahman
“Mr. Douglas?” I call out into the waiting room. A short, grey-haired man in his sixties staggers towards me, bracing his back with his hands. Despite his pain, he gives me a warm smile, which I return.
As I help him onto the exam-room table, he winces, squeezing my hand.
“I’m a medical student,” I begin. “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to examine you before Dr. Smith sees
I am trying—and failing—to wrap my mind around those four words, to grasp the weight of their meaning, but every time I try to speak or swallow, the sharpness of the word “never” lodges in my throat. Never, meaning never counting the number of fingers on an ultrasound, never feeling the flutter of little toes against your abdomen, never arguing about whether you prefer the name Sophie or Sophia,
I did make that first cut and many more afterward. I didn’t pass out, and eventually my heart stopped pounding when I picked up the scalpel. As time went on, we learned an impossible amount about the way
I take a deep breath in and let it out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. I wipe the sweat off my palms, adjust the newly-minted stethoscope draped around my neck and knock on the door.
A voice croaks, “Come in,” and I enter the room to find the patient on the chair. His eyes look tired.
The first mistake I made
was leaving my ID card home
in the pocket of my fleece–
the one with a zipper that broke
in Namibia and a hole stabbed
by a pencil during finals, worn
deep with worry and time.
Later, I asked someone else
to let me into the lab.
We made small talk in the hall.
Second, it was