Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Inscrutable malice: Ode to a virus

Barry Meisenberg
Annapolis, Maryland, United States

A mere 29 proteins, it punishes the world with an inscrutable malice.
Be it another’s agent or a principal, a nefarious actor,
it infects, inflames and thromboses according to its nature,
Leaving a wake of death, disability, grief, and havoc.

But no—not an actor at all, for no agency resides in this 29.9 kilobase genome.
It is not a tiny malevolent white whale, for it is not even a life form.
It harbors neither ambition nor pride over the devastation it produces.
It just is.

Its genome brings forth proteins that
Attach, unwind, and replicate, according to the physical laws of the universe.
But futile is the search for a gene that codes for acrimony, distrust, and
Division between nations, within countries and among families.

 Viruses need humans for those outcomes.
And we, to the best of our human ability
And the worst of our human natures,
have obliged. Grandly.

COVID car, Hartford, Connecticut. 2020. Library of Congress COVID-19: American Experiences. CC BY-NC.
“ACAB – Keep the Economy Closed”. Photo by Tony Webster, 2020, on Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

DR. BARRY R. MEISENBERG is Chair of Medicine and Executive Medical Director of Oncology at Luminis Health, Annapolis, MD. In addition to publishing research in oncology and COVID-19, he has explored the human aspects of physician identity through published perspectives, vignettes and poems. He organizes a biannual medical humanities hour, the Diastole Hour, exploring these topics for medical staff, students, and trainees.

Fall 2023



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