A name. A history — transient ischemic attack, hypertension … recent cholecystitis.
We knock and open the door to see you.
What brings you into neurology clinic?
Headaches early morning, every morning
We investigate further
For months you’ve lived this way
One question more
— stress levels in life?
And then you were more
— a chaplain
seeing your own patients, bringing ease and comfort
to those dying
you love what you do, you say
though each death
is a reminder of your husband
lost in the pandemic
when it becomes difficult,
you sit by the sea
and listen to the crashing waves
your chihuahua, your companion
we would never have known
these pieces of your life
were it not for
one question more
one moment more
and then a bridge formed between us
on a cold and rainy day
The clinic visit was initially a straightforward interview that focused on the patient’s most significant symptoms. When we were about to leave, I had one more question to ask. If we were not curious about her as a human being, we could not have even known what life circumstances to consider in our assessment. For example, the stress of her job, the grief and her ability to sleep and rest were factors that impacted her overall health and potentially worsened her symptoms. Once we listened and learned, we wanted to address these in order to fully treat this patient.
The first stanza is the most ‘structured’ stanza of the poem. Each line starts with a capital letter. The first lines have periods. This is meant to feel direct, which parallels how a new patient interview can begin as we try to determine the facts of the case. In the next stanza, I decide to ask one more question before completing the initial interview, and from there the interview transforms into a conversation where we uncover parts of the patient’s life and identity. Our understanding of what factors may affect her health also starts to change. The rest of the poem is not as structured as the first stanza, with short phrases in each line and no capital letters. There is a repetition of “more,” to emphasize that sometimes one more inquiry, one more minute or one kind word is all it takes to connect with a patient. From my experiences, I know that learning about the patient’s daily life and stressors is important, but it can be hard to do that meaningfully in practice. I will continue to try though, and in this case, I saw firsthand how curiosity and empathy also aided in discovering information that could change the patient’s treatment plan.