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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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Paper Crane

Sarah Nitoslawski

T-cell lymphoma in the brain
MRI flooded with glaring, white-hot streaks
Devouring cerebellum and frontal lobe

A scrawled note in his chart:
“difficult and disinhibited
Neurology–please re-assess”

At the sight of our starched white coats
He reaches shakily for the toothbrush on his meal tray
And begins to frantically scrub at his teeth
Wide dark eyes boring straight though us

He does not want us there.

He spits loudly into a garbage can
Dribbles of runny toothpaste streak his chin
And trickle down the front of his sweatshirt

The resident clears his throat.
“Sir, we are here to perform a quick neurological exam”

“I don’t…want…to play…your games”
His speech is sluggish and slurred
Facial muscles contracting tortuously
Grimacing to force out the words

“You are…all…bullies”

He shakes his head furiously
Choked sobs catch in his throat

His voice quavers with anger and dysarthria.


His trembling hand reaches out
Plucks the wing of a paper origami bird
Folded from a lab requisition form
Numbers haphazardly dot its beak and belly

His voice is softer now
He pulls back and forth on the tail

The room is now silent
Except for the gentle, rhythmic rustle
Of the paper crane flapping its wings

About the poet:

Sarah Nitoslawski is pursuing an MD, CM degree at McGill University in Montreal.

About the poem:

“Entering my years of clinical work, I have been startled and privileged to catch people in such raw and real moments. My poem is a gentle reminder to look beyond the medical diagnosis, to search for what inspires patients and guides them through their illness. Even when the clinical situation is dire, there is often a flutter of hope to be found.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

Call for Entries​

Pulse Writing Contest​​

"On Being Different"

About the Poem


13 thoughts on “Paper Crane”

  1. Love your appreciation and respect for the patient’s voice in this poem. Through the act of noticing “paper crane flapping its wings” and the precious.words of your patient you create opportunities for your and your patient’s healing. I am curious if any of the health care team engaged the patient further about his art of creating cranes. Appreciative inquiry would be an avenue for relieving suffering with this patient.

  2. Thank you Sarah for this very moving poem. I can see the crane and the pleasure it gives your patient. How wonderful to know that you will be entering the profession of patient care and how fortunate your patients are to have you as part of their lives. Your poem took my breath away.

  3. How lucky your future patients are; for you to know and understand that though the quality of hope changes, there is always hope (in this case hope for one more glimpse of the back and forth of the tail) is a great gift to give to your patients. Hope truly is the thing with feathers….

  4. Thank you for this poem. I will never forget it.
    Cranes are the most special birds, regal with their long ballerina necks, and their haunting cries. You bore witness to this regal man struggling to preserve the essence of who he is – an artist.

  5. This is a beautiful poem. What a moving picture it leaves me with! My elderly Dad, with many and increasing ‘limitations’ spends hours painting pictures of boats and farms and old houses. Around him, the other residents come and go and Dad will paint until the dark in the room gets the better or him. It is his voice now.

    Thank you for this poem on this cold Friday.

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