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The quietest thing: A reflection on loss

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category

This week I want to share a poem from my time on clerkships, entitled “The Quietest Thing.” Loss permeates the hospital and yet catches us off guard. For me, the loss of my grandfather in India coupled with the many types of loss I had witnessed on the medicine ward was something I needed to process through writing. How bodies and minds fail us, how expectations for betterment are upended, and how suffering is comprised of the tiniest indignities - these are all lessons of the hospital as they are of life. Medicine is of, for, and about humans. As such, the medical humanities are essential: They help students and providers to explore the emotional and ethical terrains of our trade, to dig and develop as doctors.

The Quietest Thing

Not laughter
--the quietest thing
--not silence, with its many-echoed crunch

The quietest thing is this:
It plods across continents
Shedding tears from its sneakers
Inordinately cold, it shivers
Huddling against telephone poles
Moving with the stealth of suspicion
And the weight of an angry thought.

Your body on a Skype screen
Eyes shut, regal.
As I watch them perform the rites
With muted voices and heavy hands
Why give me this shadow of a funeral, slimmer than a crescent moon?

The quietest thing is fear slipping into its worldly robes:
This news. This loss.

Amrapali Maitra is a sixth-year MD/PhD student at Stanford studying medical anthropology. She is grateful to Stanford’s excellent Medicine & the Muse program for providing and supporting avenues for writing, art, reflection, and engagement with the medical humanities.

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