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My Parents Took Me on a Cruise as a Child

"I would feel my own tongue glued to my teeth my breathing short & rapid"

Published onOct 26, 2023
My Parents Took Me on a Cruise as a Child

Photo by Matthew Barra:

& I spent eight days vomiting in the cabin,
watched 48 hours of the TV show House
on DVD. I can still feel the boat’s undulations
if I close my eyes tightly, like the prodrome
to a nightmare—so it’s incredible
that I didn’t remember the first episode:
a teacher by the chalk board
her muscles tonic-clonic collapsing
to the floor in front of her students amazing
that even after collapsing in front of my
classmates trying to ask for help but unable
to speak I would still one day months
later pull up this pilot as if to rekindle
my love of medicine & snark on the long
long road to a medical degree & of course
see this woman’s tongue immobilized
her muscles rigid then jerking then rigid
the way I would feel my own tongue
glued to my teeth my breathing
short & rapid would wonder how I could
ever watch someone experience the horror
of losing control entirely & have the strength
to intervene—in the ICU I had many
subsequent seizures & in the several days
that followed my stay I checked my chart—
a file marked: video. It was only a transcription,
though, my arm dislocating forwards
& then backwards with a violence
I do not remember. My head swiveling
side to side. This story is uncommon,
but the things we are afraid of
as doctors are the same:
the fear that we will be discovered
as inadequate, the patients
who remind us of ourselves.

Joey Lew is a surgical resident at Duke University. Lew holds an MFA in poetry from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2019) and an M.D. from the University of California, San Francisco (2023). Her poetry can be seen in The MacGuffin, One, and the Journal of Medical Humanities, among other literary magazines. She placed first in the 2020 William Carlos Williams National Poetry Competition and the 2022 Lough Mask Poetry Competition and was shortlisted at the 2023 Wolverhampton Literary Festival Poetry Competition, as well as a semifinalist for the 2023 Kay Murphy Poetry Prize.

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