Farm dog

For you will be invincible
          and vulnerable in the same breath
          which is the breath of your patients
For their breath is our breathing and our reason
For the patient will know the answer
          and you will ask him
          ask her
For the family may know the answer
For there may be no answer
-John Stone, “Gaudeamus Igitur: A Valediction”

 
I first learned to interact with poetry as a college freshman. Because I tested out of calculus, I was automatically signed up for a literature class focusing on medicine. I have always loved to read, but I was terrified of a 300-level English class. I had absolutely no useful academic background in the subject, but I did my best to keep calm. The course, along with subsequent courses in the medical humanities, turned out to be one of the highlights of my undergraduate career. With the help of engaging content and a dedicated professor, I learned to read, write and think. Most importantly, I learned that the act of seeking understanding is as important as acquiring definitive knowledge.

An integral part of coming to this realization involved reading the work of physician-writers. In this way, I found John Stone’s poetry. Through his writing, I became acquainted with the art of medicine as a necessary compliment to the science. The unknown and the unanswerable were suddenly alluring; the difficulty of treating and attempting to heal unique individuals was suddenly intriguing. As I developed an appreciation for its gray areas, I knew that I could find a place for myself in the world of medicine. Thanks to a fortuitous series of events, the humanities fueled my passion for a career in the sciences.

Four years later, graduation is nearing, and I’m only months away from beginning veterinary school. In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m revisiting John Stone’s poetry. I savor every moment spent between the pages of Music from Apartment 8. It doesn’t matter that Stone worked in human medicine while I intend to work in veterinary medicine. This doesn’t make his poetry any less relatable. The fundamental elements of both fields are, I believe, the same. My patients will be furrier, but their breath will be just as essential to me. I will be equally invincible and vulnerable as I face my patients and their families, and I will, similarly, fail to come up with answers.

For the heart will lead
For the head will explain
          but the final common pathway is the heart
          whatever kingdom may come
For what matters finally is how the human spirit is spent
-John Stone, “Gaudeamus Igitur: A Valediction”

 
Read more about celebrating National Poetry Month, check out my other posts on poetry, and check back throughout the month for more in this series.

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