The Scientists

Psychiatric TimesVol 41, Issue 7

"By now I’ve lost track of time with this boy who reminds me of myself when I imagined becoming a doctor..."




…a sort of intoxicated joy and amazement at the beauty and grandeur of this world…is the feeling from which true scientific research draws its spiritual substance. –Albert Einstein

It’s late afternoon and I’m burned out

from three long evaluations with ghetto boys

who saw me as the Grand Inquisitor.

My last case sits in the recliner and stares

out the window. With a do-rag on his head,

FuBu sweats and unlaced Timberland boots,

he looks like the kind of boy neighbors fear

might climb through their window at 2 A.M.

I learn he’s on too many meds,

and tell him my plan to taper them,

but he’s more concerned with knowing

how each one works, their structures,

formulas, and chemical names.

He tells me he studies reproduction,

not in the rap music way,

but the internal workings of an egg

brushed by cilia down the Fallopian tube.

And he asks where each egg goes

if it fails to be fertilized, can we discover the cells

in a woman’s urine or does her body absorb them?

An hour later we have pages of diagrams –

synaptic clefts, details of the uterine wall,

the intricate feedback loops

that control the rhythm of a menstrual cycle.

By now I’ve lost track of time

with this boy who reminds me of myself

when I imagined becoming a doctor,

how I tried to answer the same questions

about birth, death and the body,

and the way forty years have passed,

the beauty still intoxicating, the spirit

of the research like a child swimming

for the first time in the sea, awed

by the waves, the smell of the air,

the mouthful of water with its shock of salt.

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 Tender Fences.

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