Published in the Spring 2016 issue of Intima,“The Bright Speck,” Dixon Yang’s non-fiction work, struck me as a wonderfully bright contrast to my short story, “Your Father’s Heart” published in the same issue. My clerkship straddled the last year of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties – a different era, almost a lifetime ago. AIDS was an emergent, terrifying scourge. Men in power were prone to engage in innuendos and bullying, women who wanted power emulated the men. Shit rolled downhill and we, the medical students, were mired in the valley below. I toed the line, terrified most of the time.
Dixon, writing about a clerkship encounter, eloquently narrates his attachment to a patient with an end-stage lung cancer. He is not afraid to give voice to his own emotions and to an ethical struggle about whether he is the best person to share the devastating news. His maturity and insight differs so much from my own struggles that I was envious as I read his account. How I yearned for such connection with my patients. Was it me – terrified for my marks, of offending the residents and the attendings – or was it the general culture? How I wished a patient invited me to a ball game with them, or, failing that – I was a girl after all – to just notice me as a human being. I struggled so hard to help them that I failed to help myself. My loneliness on the wards was epic; isolated by my desire to succeed and prove myself I floundered as doctor-in-training and as a human being.
I began to write “Your Father’s Heart,” during those tumultuous eight weeks of my medicine rotation, shortly after my father’s heart attack. It took twenty years to finish it. I wish I had been able to share it back then. But there was no resident book clubs or writing groups, no humanities curriculum – silence shrouded the verbal and emotional abuse of medical students and residents. It wasn’t until much later in my professional career that I learned how writing can save my sanity. Dixon discovered the power of a shared story early in his professional life and he has years to benefit form the narrative exploration of his experiences.
I am so happy for him. Writing will serve him well in years to come.
Margaret Nowaczyk is a pediatrician and a clinical geneticist. She is a Professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster University and DeGroote School of Medicine in Hamilton, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in Geist Magazine, The Examined Life Journal, and Canadian Medical Association Journal. Her stories are scheduled to appear in literary magazines Prairie Fire and Numero Cinq. She lives in Hamilton with her husband and two sons. Her story, "Your Father's Heart" appeared in the Spring 2016 Intima.
© 2016 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine