"Teaching Rounds"

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"In the corridor, he demands a confession: Who peeled back his bandage? Who let him look?"

Any Good Poem

Richard Berlin, MD, shares his poem "Teaching Rounds," which reflects an era when medical training, especially on surgical teams, was extremely authoritarian and hierarchical, and medical students and residents could serve as targets for humiliation.


Teaching Rounds


His hand is a farmer’s hand,

nails outlined with crescents of black

earth, skin calloused, tough as a paw.

With one finger he traces the wound

we plowed from sternum to pubis,

flicks the sharp tips of snipped catgut.

We all know what was buried inside.

His movements remind me of an afternoon

on the bank of the Li River when

I stroked the gray bark of an ancient

banyan tree, the sound of water flowing

below me, the wind brushing a beat

in the bamboo leaves.When I come back

the patient is crying. Our Attending answers

a routine page, an excuse to leave.

In the corridor, he demands a confession:

Who peeled back his bandage?

Who let him look?“It was the wind”

I want to say, “And the river,” but

I keep quiet, eyes on his scrubbed fingers.


Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 26 years in Psychiatric Times in a column called “Poetry of the Times.” He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is Freud on My Couch.

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