Endangered Art of Medicine

Get Permission

I hold a cold, lifeless mouse instead of my patient’s heated hand,

checking off the tiny box marked “Anxiety,”

while she squirms under twisted blankets. 

I don’t remember when or how or why it happened,

that the static screen

wedged itself between my patients and me

and compliance with the digital medical record

turned into a strange robotic behavior.

A blinking yellow triangle

that indicates an unfinished sequence

has replaced the first point of contact.

The patient’s unease remains a silent disappointment,

for both of us. 

As I approach the bedside

I feel like a fraud.

We, in white coats, have traded human bonding

with the fast and sure delivery of a chemical sedative.

Not the art of medicine we once promised and practiced,

a magic we could still perform if given the chance. 

But lately I have been tempted to administer a larger dose

and secretly wonder if half of it would be for me,

to cover my shame of allowing the new protocol

to victimize both of us.

A larger dose to bridge the gap between my conscious skin-to-skin caring

and a persistent effort to close the perfunctory file. 

As an apology, I want to crawl under the twisted blanket

and pull it over both our heads,

shut out the iridescent screen

and revive our human bond. 

After all the buttons are pushed,

who will take note of this generated record,

which stole away memorable moments

and chances to feel cared for? 

I turn to the patient and under the blanket I find her fingers.

And as I slip my hand into hers,

she settles and resolves that it is safe to sleep 

and mends my offended sense of ethics. 

—Gabriele Roden, MD 

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida