Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

A Simple Cure

Huy D. Phan
Aurora, Colorado, USA



older woman sitting in bed looking at a photograph
Photo by Elisa Paolini

On the wards, time is limited.
Always writing notes, rounding, learning.
There is seldom a chance to sit and talk
With the people called patients.

But from time to time,
Notes are completed before noon,
Rounds are productive and efficient,
Teaching sessions are started and finished.

With an hour to spare,
And patients free from sticks and draws,
A gentle knock on the door left ajar,
A friendly “Hello, how are you ma’am?”

White-haired, old-skinned,
With dull, tired eyes behind rectangular lenses
She stares straight ahead
And replies, “I’m OK.”

She talks at length
About how exhausted she feels.
The fatigue, the lack of energy
From long, restless hospital nights.

But something noticeably changes
As the conversation shifts
With a simple question of,
“Mrs. M, can you tell me about yourself?”

Her eyes light up,
Like the worn wick
Of an old, white candle
On the last of its wax.

Her previously fatigued face
Now donned with a fresh smile.

Full of liveliness.
Full of energy.

She shares a piece of herself,
Filled with stories of travels past.
Germany, Switzerland, France.
Egypt, South Africa, Ethiopia.

She recounts the many postcards
That she would buy
On which to engrave
Her adventures’ memories.

As the afternoon sun starts to dip,
The stories come to an end.
With a smile still painted on her face,
The patient’s eyes start to droop.

On the way back to work,
The nurse comes by
To express thanks and gratitude
For what had just transpired.

She shared that never once
Since the patient’s admission
Had she seen such lively eyes,
Such a smile from Mrs. M.

Thinking back on those words
It’s hard to believe that
Such a small gesture
Would make such a big difference.

That something as small as
Taking time to talk to a patient
Can add a warmth, a light
To an otherwise dark and cold experience.

This experience leaves one to wonder,
Whether one’s presence and words
Can remedy and soothe
Some ailments that medicines cannot?



HUY PHAN is currently a 3rd year medical student who will pursue a career in Internal Medicine. Outside of medical school, Huy enjoys traveling the world, learning about different peoples and cultures, and capturing photos of the unique people and landscapes around him. In addition to school and hospital work, Huy is currently working on his “A Photo A Day” project, a photographic collection that artfully documents his day-to-day life as a medical student.


Summer 2016  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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