I hold a cold, lifeless mouse instead of my patient’s heated hand,
checking off the tiny box marked “Anxiety,”
while she squirms under twisted blankets.
I don’t remember when or how or why it happened,
that the static screen
wedged itself between my patients and me
and compliance with the digital medical record
turned into a strange robotic behavior.
A blinking yellow triangle
that indicates an unfinished sequence
has replaced the first point of contact.
The patient’s unease remains a silent disappointment,
for both of us.
As I approach the bedside
I feel like a fraud.
We, in white coats, have traded human bonding
with the fast and sure delivery of a chemical sedative.
Not the art of medicine we once promised and practiced,
a magic we could still perform if given the chance.
But lately I have been tempted to administer a larger dose
and secretly wonder if half of it would be for me,
to cover my shame of allowing the new protocol
to victimize both of us.
A larger dose to bridge the gap between my conscious skin-to-skin caring
and a persistent effort to close the perfunctory file.
As an apology, I want to crawl under the twisted blanket
and pull it over both our heads,
shut out the iridescent screen
and revive our human bond.
After all the buttons are pushed,
who will take note of this generated record,
which stole away memorable moments
and chances to feel cared for?
I turn to the patient and under the blanket I find her fingers.
And as I slip my hand into hers,
she settles and resolves that it is safe to sleep
and mends my offended sense of ethics.
—Gabriele Roden, MD
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida