The physician-narrator is looking in on a 30 year old patient named Ricky. Readers immediately learn that the patient has cerebral palsy: his ear mashed flat, his neck contorted into a tight C, almost quadriplegic. These first stanza clinical observations are indisputable. The narrator then shifts from the medical facts to more subjective thoughts ranging from Ricky’s previous treatment responses and medications to Ricky’s adult heterosexual response to the proximity of a female, and finally to the narrator’s own wishes for this patient. Ricky’s parents, the narrator notes, have similarly but uncomfortably witnessed their son’s ogling response to a pretty nurse or doctor or a provocative adult television image. The parents’ response, he notes, to these observations has been to redirect Ricky’s focus by switching the channel to Nickelodeon, a program geared towards children.  Not unlike situations in several writings by William Carlos Williams, this physician has moved from objective medical information to his own interior thoughts about Ricky’s circumstances and confinement.  Rather than sticking with the facts associated with the patient’s medical condition, he wonders, imagines, and expresses in this poem seemingly un-doctorly thoughts. 


First-year medical students in my required Humanities course read this poem prior to class and have a short (5 minutes) opportunity to share their thoughts/responses with a classmate  at the onset of class.  Two pre-selected and prepared students, one male and one female, provide a short introduction to the poem before conducting a discussion. Some students remain silent but most are active participants in a lively discussion that includes strong castigation of the physician, whose thoughts some see as demeaning and unprofessional  toward women. Other voices defend and admire the physician for his empathy and his imagination.  Similar discussions have occurred in other classes when students read “The Use of Force” by Williams, “Touching” by Hellerstein, “Baby Poop” by Klass, “poem to my uterus” by Lucille Clifton, and “Laundry” by Mates. These poems and stories  push readers to see physicians and patients as people and to explore  complexities of interactions between objective ideal and subjective realities. In “Touching,” for example, medical students typically speak in one voice of outrage against the unprofessional mentor but also of the lesson they, as readers, learn about those who serve as good professional models for them-- and those who will not. Many narrative paintings such as The Fountain of Youth by Cranach, Guernica by Picasso, Ennui by Sickert, and Three Ages of Woman by Klimt can also elicit lively and useful discussions.

Primary Source

House Calls, Rounds, and Healings: A Poetry Casebook


Galen Press, Ltd

Place Published

Tucson, Arizona