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Perfect Circle

Francesca Decker

“You drew a perfect circle!” she exclaims.
I nod and smile as I explain,
“Yes, well, thank you…
And now this circle is a plate.
Half is vegetables.
A quarter is starch or sugar.
A quarter is protein–meat, dairy, eggs, or beans.”
Now she nods and smiles.
We discuss her diabetes,
asking her son to help her do weekly foot exams.
She has lost weight.
I give heartfelt congratulations.
Before she leaves, my attending tells her
about a local food truck
selling fresh fruit and vegetables.
As she climbs down from the exam table,
she grins again and declares,
“Boy, I’m just impressed with you!”

I feel pride well up.
I have reached her.
I’ve made a difference!
She goes on:
“A perfect circle,
I just can’t believe it!”

About the poet:

Francesca Decker, a family physician, is currently taking time off from practice to help take care of her mother, in Ithaca, NY. Francesca is launching a new website,, that explores the many aspects of trying to be a complete human being while also practicing medicine. “I was a fourth-year chief resident in the University of Rochester department of family medicine at the time of this writing. For years, I have been passionate about public health, behavior change and nutrition. In addition, over the past two years I’ve come to better appreciate how powerful narrative medicine can be. For me, it provides insight, illuminates shared experience and helps prevent burnout by finding the meaning and humor in my day-to-day work.”

About the poem:

“This poem is based on a patient visit. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself when she commented on how impressed she was by the circle I’d drawn. It was a humbling reminder of the small moments that light up a day for us and for our patients. Sometimes (many times!) the best moments have less to do with biomedical care and more to do with our presence and with the interaction itself.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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About the Poem


4 thoughts on “Perfect Circle”

  1. Jacqueline Laing

    As a diabetes nurse educator, I laughed when I got to the end. What patients take away from our teaching is not always what we had planned but I always hope we have made a difference, anyway. A wonderful piece.

  2. so beautifully written and I laughed out loud! one way or another, it’s our presence along with our medical knowledge that matters to our patience. wishing you well in your care of your mother, Dr Decker.

  3. It is indeed about those moments, the human moments!
    After being in practice for more than 25 years, I have come to realize that what my patient appreciate the most is ‘my humanity’. Yes of course is important to know the science and that you improve their chronic illnesses with the medications you prescribe or help them stay healthy with the advise you offer; but what the patient REALLY enjoys the most, is that you KNOW THEM! not their illness, that you remember those personal details of their daily life that may have nothing to do with their health. I have to admit that I continue to enjoy what I do for the same reason, despite all the administrative hurdles impose in our daily routine.

    1. I work with young physicians that could be my own kids and really upsets me to see that are so frustrated with our health care delivery system so early in their careers, I keep reminding them; keep present the reason your chose to be a family doctor to begin with….that will help you on those difficult days!

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