Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The two ends of the stethoscope

Jill Kar
New Delhi, India


Author’s note: The theme of this poem is the decline of doctor-patient relationship in the modern medical setting. Through the expression of unsaid feelings, this poem outlines the thoughts of a patient (stanza 1) and a doctor (stanza 2) in the setting of a health consultation on a busy outpatient day at the hospital. It highlights the disappointments patients have due to the lack of time, attention, and compassion in their health consultations, leading to distrust and non-compliance, yet goes on to highlight the story of doctors in such a setting.


Simple drawing of a faceless physician meeting the hand of a faceless woman leaning on a cane. The two of them have a shared thought bubble containing a stethoscope; the earpiece end faces the physician while the other faces the patient.
Artwork by author

Does he know I’ve been waiting? Does he know the pain I’m in?
As his eyes embrace the screen and papers, does he care how miserable I’ve been?
Weaving my misery into words, I fight my gut to speak words fair.
I wish for just one glance of compassion to calm my distress and despair.
Too absorbed to heed my words that hover on like swirls of dust,
He’s in his chair and I’m in mine for reasons I should learn to trust.
Frail and feeble here I lay, wondering if I hoped for more than the ordinary humane,
While to him I’m just another “case,” a riddle to fathom, merely engaging or mundane?
My tale is cut short, for the white coat knows better of what I’m going through.
He writes me some advice I’d like to believe, had moments of mercy not been so few.
But do I have a choice while waiting, narrating, being the poor patient, after all?
I wrap my doubts into a lump as he hastens for the hundred like me who wait out in the hall.
I wonder what happened to the days when we could have a compassionate conversation.
Empathy seems to be empty as they refuse to look beyond my ailment, my affliction.

Yes, I know you’ve been waiting, and believe me, I can imagine the pain.
Forgive me when my eyes bore into the charts; my mind is bartered for material gain,
Crushed beneath the bureaucrats who worm their way ‘tween you and me—
My heart aches as our relationship surrenders its humanistic sanctity.
Believe me, I care, and I listen, though my attention seems divided.
I only wish you’d hear me out, for the coin is two-sided.
Not a quiver, twitch, or flutter goes unnoticed, though it may seem so to your eye.
I crave that conversation too, my dear, but the finite time will not comply.
Burned out, I shall still strive and serve to fill your life with health, healing, and hope,
For once a young man walked these wards with an oath to honor both ends of his stethoscope.



JILL KAR is a medical intern at Lady Hardinge Medical College, India. She is an avid writer, researcher, and reader. She is a former Ascona Awardee and has published work in medicine and ongoing projects in healthcare delivery and surgery.


Spring 2023  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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