Prize Winners 2003


X-Ray by Saira Malik

Saira Malik, Class of 2003 Oil and collage on canvas

Gross Anatomy Without a Lover OR

There’s Only So Many Times You Can Palpate Your Own Sternal Angle or take Your Own Femoral Pulse

Another Trudge Home Tuesday
Formaldehyde Fume Day
Chicago chill seeps through windows
greets me
treats me
to another welcome home

Alone —
with no lover.

You see I’ve never been one to ask for much
never been one to compile mile long wish lists
never been one to confuse God with Santa Claus
And yet
These days
I amaze myself
find my neck crane towards the heavens
as my mind wanders
whether a lover at home
is too much to ask for.

A Lover.
A reason to scrub my body raw after lab
replace fetid stench with sweet scent
for a lover’s beloved nose
A lover
A reason to eat more than a can of Progresso Minestrone
or a box of mac n cheese with fake meat at night
A lover
At home
To drive away the alone.

“Some Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle.”
I could totally work with that!

Lover, you’d be my anatomical muse
I’d use water colors, body paints
Magic mark you up
number each vertebra
trace each rib
You think I’d forget your inguinal ligament?
You see, this is a case of need
A case of academic necessity
With a lover at home
My mind would rewind/stop/slow motion/re-play
Lieska back to a speed
where I didn’t feel I need to BE on speed
to understan
See my mind would rewind
stop/slow motion/play again
all the details
I’d comb through lectures
sift them through a sieve
to find you the nuggets

Lover, my fingers would trace lines
on your iliac spines
I’d recall the ASIS and pubic tubercle
lie on the same plane
important for orientation
and if that got real boring
I’d create a story
about a ballerina named Lulu
in her pretty pink tutu
who injured her plantaris muscle
on a particularly difficult pirouette
or I’d grab your heel
reveal the details of the River Styx
Achilles and his ultimate vincibility

Oh Lover!
I would regale you with
stories of muscles, of tendons
sweep hands over your iliopsoas
tell you if you were a cow
that would be filet mignon
my palms would cover broad swaths over smooth back
teach you trapezius
deltoid rhomboid
I’d draw a circle
on your triangle of auscultation
to remind me where the stethoscope goes

My ear resting on your T4 dermatome
I’d listen to
I’d listen to
I’d listen to more than valves closing
more than lubs
more than dubs
I’d listen to the poetry
your heart writes every day

Because you’d think
afternoons and evenings
of cold bodies
of latex gloves and plastic bags over faces
endless scraping and scalpels
rigid joints, stiff skin
you’d think that in a moral universe
in a moral universe
the only just reward
for a cadaver cold body
would be a warm one
waiting for me at home.

Dipti Barot, Class of 2006

The Foley

We sat in the residents’ lounge, our ordered food in front of us.  7:30 p.m.  Last call night of my surgery rotation, Thank God.  I thought the day would never come.  We had just scrubbed out of the last OR case, the last of a long procession, one gallbladder, followed by an appendix, followed by another gallbladder, then a lung.  A breast, here and there.  The breast cases were the hardest really.  Sometimes, the patient looked just like your mother.  At least with the lung cancer patients, you could make yourself feel better by saying, “Well, 50 pack year history, what’d he expect?”

The intern and I put our feet up, eating our Chinese food and watching the last of Felicity on the TV screen.  Neither of us wanted to be there that night.  We felt alone when the sun faded into the dusk, and we thought of lights turning on in houses around the city, families sitting down together, the TV shows and dinners and phone calls carrying out the comfortable routines of the week.  The intern’s pager went off.  We both stared at it, then stared at each other.  “Some old white guy with back pain in the ER.  You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.”

The thing is, the description can never really match the patient accurately, no matter how hard you search for the right words.  We foudn the patient in Radiology, the techs attempting to get a CT scan on him.  A heavy, not so old looking, white as snow male, was writhing on the scanner, so much so that he was about to fall off.  Screaming, not able to find a comfortable position no matter how much he turned this way and that way, no matter if he curled up like a baby, no matter if he lied on his stomach or back.  The CT scan told the truth: a ruptured aortic aneurysm.  He was bleeding out.

“Stop screwing around!  We need to get this patient to the OR!”  screamed the Surgery senior resident.  We rushed the patient to the OR and got him on the table, all sterile technique forgotten.  The scrub nurse threw the package containing the foley catheter in my direction.  I had never put a foley into an awake, conscious, screaming patient, and I fumbled around with the catheter a bit, hesitating…maybe I’d wait until the anesthesiologist had him under.  “You can’t even put the Goddamn foley in!”  The Surgery senior yanked back the foreskin adn shoved the foley in, ignoring the patient’s recoil. I winced.  The intern and I, in the midst of all the commotion and yelling and shoving, exchanged glances.  As the twilight of anesthesia began to settle around the patient, he was cut open, from sternum to pubic bone.  With frantic efforts, the senior and attending attempted to contain the bleeding, yet their hands and eyes constantly drowned in red, welling, welling, as they fished out clots and threw them aside.  “He’s dropping his pressures…” warned the anesthesiologist.

He coded and was brought back three times to a thready pulse before the attending and the senior gave up.  I looked around the room.  The floor was a sea of blood with gloves, torn packages, and thrown instruments floating about.  There was a heavy, palpable air of defeat in the room.  A patient had died on the table.  The attending and senior tossed their gloves into the garbage and walked out of the room to talk to the patient’s wife.  “Who took the patient to CT?”  “Who the hell was following this patient, letting him walk around with a freaking aneurysm that size??”  We all still needed somebody to blame.  Three had to be an explanation why modern medicine had failed this man whose wife was still sitting downstairs in the ER, turning his eyeglasses over and over in her hands.

My intern was practicing his suturing — they had let him close.  Neat railroad tracks on the surface.  Underneath, organs and omentum hastily shoved back in, fascia more or less shut with a few stitches here and there.  I put on some gloves, and together we began the process of cleaning the patient.  We wiped off the Betadiine, and the blood that had seeped onto his skin.  We took the tape off of his mouth and eyes.  We ran a wet towel through his greying, scant hair.  His eyes were slightly open, watching us clean him.  He was still warm.

Once dead, he seemed alone and forgotten.  The staff went about clearing the room and taking care of necessary paperwork.  The surgeons were gone.  It was me and the intern, with a man who, according to his wife, had just played golf with their son yesterday.  How do I clean the arms that had held his wife, wipe the lips that had kissed his children?  It was all I had to offer him…after all, I couldn’t even get the foley in.

Monisha Vasa, Class of 2003