Arts and Poetry, Featured, Patient Advocacy, Racism and Discrimination, Words from the Wards
Leave a comment

One Day

I picture you.

Dressed in a stygian three-piece suit,

White cloth anterior to four chambers,

Lapel of velvet glistening  

While the white shirt offers a contrast

As Bond’s rival makes his debut

Amidst skin as sweet as overripe bananas.


Representing decades of my kin,

Hand wrapped in Africa’s finest

A mirror image of my grandfather

In an era of Tuskegee.

As frustrations rise

From words missing ears and

Eyes denying the witness’s statement

With disease left to foster while

Mistrust runs through future generations


He stood by your bed

A counterpart in blood and organs

An opposite in skin and heritage

But in a room full of white coats

He mislabeled you as someone to fear

My stark identities becoming more pronounced

As I wonder his view of me


I see you.

The blue garment draping your figure

The tracheotomy helping you breathe

The wired jaw forbidding words

The muscle atrophy from lying

The depression as hope fades

Object to piercing eyes as they try to define you,

Friend or foe?


I stand by uncomfortable with his analogy of

Black equals dangerous

Unsure how to voice it


Hoping one day,

He can picture you as I.

This poem was written after a white male counterpart sought to explain to our attending why the nurses feared one of our patients. From his viewpoint, the patient’s frustrations, body size, and his race likely made him an intimidating figure.

The patient was a Black male who had been hospitalized for three months. He could not speak due to his wire-shut jaw and tracheotomy. He could barely look down at the pen and paper as he wrote to communicate with us. He was given sponge baths as he could not get out of bed. He could not even turn his head toward the TV in the corner of his room. He was vulnerable, weak, and a shadow of health. He reminded me of my family members.

So when my counterpart conveyed to our attending that he understood why this patient was feared by the nursing staff, I was shocked. I stood by listening with silent objection. From my perspective the patient was sad, lonely, and frustrated, not intimidating. This poem is a play on perception. If the physical features of the patient changed so that he looked and dressed like James Bond, I do not think he would have been perceived as dangerous.

Image credit: Shasta County Fire Activity (Eiler Fire) by Cal OES licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Alicia Pugh Alicia Pugh (2 Posts)

Medical Student Contributing Writer

University of Illinois at Chicago

Alicia Pugh is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys creative writing, gardening, and volunteering.