Personal Narrative
Feb 2001

Through the Student's (or Physician's) Eyes: Sag

Jennifer Bau
Virtual Mentor. 2001;3(2):48-50. doi: 10.1001/virtualmentor.2001.3.2.prsp1-0102.


Sag - 1. To droop, sink, or settle from pressure or weight. 2. To lose strength, firmness, or resilience 

Rumble, rumble of elevators
Whir, whir of conversation
Flashes of plain clothes, suits, skirts, and scrubs
Weaving between beds, wheelchairs, canes.
In this morning hospital hallway,
Thin, gray surgeon 
Stops at a painting 
Pulling on the wall, 
Gleaming white coat 
Starched, long and flowing, 
Embroidered with many titles
Pockets sagging with the weight 
Of tools, pens, papers, pager, 
Sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup, 
Baggy eyes squint 
At the painting of the patient 
Wrapped in the healing snakes.

He thinks
Nice contour of reconstructed breast
Navel drops off to the left a bit
Too bad about lymphedema in the arm

Zipping around the corner, 
Medical student in jeans, T-shirt, 
Back sagging from the weight of 
Books, books, books
In her backpack, 
Sipping coffee from a travel mug, 
Stops short. 
Crashing into old, important surgeons 
Is frowned upon. 
Baggy eyes meet baggy eyes 
Thin, wan smiles of understanding 
Are exchanged. 
She looks to the painting and thinks
Snakes and a lady. 
Not on Friday's test. 
Peering closer,

She wonders, 
Does the new breast bounce 
Like the other one? 
Does that scar show 
With a bikini on?

Three seconds of silence, then
The surgeon's pager screams
And the med student is reminded 
To go learn the lymphatic drainage system
Of the breast.

Later, in his office, 
The surgeon settles in his chair
Behind his great oak desk, 
Runs his slender fingers 
Over the dusty framed photos, 
His children's pictures from grade school 
All grown now, with families. 
He wonders how their mother 
Likes her new place. 
He thinks about the painting
Pulling on the wall, 
The patient with the team
Of helpful snakes, 
His shoulders sag 
And he whispers
A verse his grandma taught him
With men, things are impossible. 
With God, all things are possible. 
Yet I'm no longer God
To them

Later, in the library, 
The med student shifts in her chair, 
Now understanding the importance 
Of axillary and cutaneous lymph nodes, 
She stretches, cracks her knuckles, 
Notices the dent still on her finger 
Where the engagement ring 
Used to be. 
She thinks about the painting
Pulling on the wall
Her eyelids sag 
And she murmurs,
Hope all those healing snakes are standard
When my white coat 
Is long enough for respect
Because it sure would be nice 
To not have to do everything 
All by myself

The night hospital symphony plays, 
Hum, hum of generators
Buzz, buzz of lights
Blended with the sighs
Of vending machines 
Grateful for some rest. 
And as the surgeon and the med student 
Step home to this beat
To freezer meals and cold beds, 
The patient in the painting
Pulling on the wall
Cries out to the jaded journeyers
We don't want everything you have
And you don't have to be everything to us
Just make sure that we're surrounded
By more hands 
Than we can hold



Virtual Mentor. 2001;3(2):48-50.



The viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.