Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Home is where the heart is

Asim Khan
New Brunswick, New Jersey, United States

Anesthetist Annalisa Silvestri of the San Salvatore Hospital in Pesaro, Italy, at the end of her shift during the COVID-19 pandemic. March 19, 2020. Photo by Alberto Giuliani on Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Home is where the heart is,
That’s how the old saying goes,
But where is home? Apparently, no one knows.

Feet perched up on the desk, the intern removes from her ears her brand-new Bose,
The alarm of siren, a code blue—she sprints through obstacles high and low.
Panicked, upon arrival, she admitted this patient only hours ago.

Pulseless, and they frantically rush without repose,
Soundless, a vacuum of torrential medical prose,
And it all stops, pause—the strip, a flat line it shows,
And they continue, lining up to take their turn in rows,
All on queue, a conveyor belt as far as the eye can go,
Compression after compression, it never slows,
Son and daughter arrive and realize there is little hope.

He wanted to pass at home among loving hands he knows,
To die a wishful death, not in a drab room under a white throw.
He always used to say, “You will reap the seeds you sow;”
He didn’t want this, but he just didn’t know,
The doctor, she never told him he could silently go.

Instead, he suffered one by one painful blows.
Until the heart found its home, no more diastole to passively pour
Into the cavity, motionless, absent of its rhythmic contour.
The time of pronouncement: early morning, four past four. 

If only the doctor had asked for more,
If only she had the courage gathered from her core,
She could have prevented what will become tragic lore,

To ask on that fateful night—before all of this—“What are your wishes, sir?”
Would you like to talk with family and stir,
I am not God, not a seer but with words sincere,
In this moment of pain, unknown, and hidden fear,
Together we will stay away from the heartache so severe,
Together we agree to make you comfortable, so that you may reach the edge of the frontier,
Calm and serene, so your family may revere.

She sees the reality and awaits the anger and leer,
Of denial and frustration from family severe,
Of suffering she caused—it was her fault, isn’t it clear? 

Instead, his daughter, exasperated and full of tears,
She whispers: “Thank you, my dear,
You did all could to make him reappear,
But surely it was his time, this second, this moment, this year,
Stay strong, for you are the vanguard of the weak and ill—far and near, 
Stay strong, dear doctor; for our sakes, you must persevere.

For you, there is redemption, so you must rise above and soar,
Be wary of incessant guilt and remorse.”
The young intern remembers the French saying “Ne pas perdre le Nord”—
To keep steady, and maintain the course.

Looking back at the daughter, she too whispers: 
“My heart has found its home,
It is not in deep depths of misery and catacombs,
But it is here, in this hospital, with you and all my patients:
I choose not to suffer alone.”


DR. ASIM KHAN completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, New Jersey. He serves as an Academic Hospitalist and core faculty at the Internal Medicine Residency Program, Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He loves teaching medicine at the bedside.

Winter 2024

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