Winners announced in first Poetry in Medicine competition

Oliver Wendall Holmes

Three students from the Class of 2014 at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine were among the winners in the area’s first annual Poetry in Medicine competition.

First place went to Sara Bahraini for her poem, “Almost Sisters.” Yi Deng received second place for her poem, “The Mental Status Exam.” Third place went to Robert Brown for his poem, “To My First Patients.”

Physician and poet Jack Coulehan served as guest judge. Winning poems were selected on the basis of craftsmanship, originality, and content.

“The large volume of entries was surprising,” said Dr. Molly O’Dell, director of the New River Health District and a poet who conceived the program. “The high level of interest and participation affirms this poetry competition as a worthwhile forum for writers and medical students. Every winner was so appreciative of the opportunity and the experience.”

Supported by the Roanoke Times and World News, the Tuberculosis Foundation of Virginia, and Community High School for Arts and Academics, the competition was also open to master of fine arts students and undergraduates at Virginia Tech. Among the master of fine arts students, Brianna Stout took first place, followed by Laura Usselman, second, and Amy Marengo, third. Virginia Tech student Marcus McDonald took first in the undergraduate category, followed by Will Mackie-Jenkins, second, and Alaina Brown, third.

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute joins the basic science, life science, bioinformatics, and engineering strengths of Virginia Tech with the medical practice and medical education experience of Carilion Clinic. Virginia Tech Carilion is located in a new biomedical health sciences campus in Roanoke at 2 Riverside Circle.

Written by Catherine Doss

Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine winning entries:


Almost Sisters

Sara Bahraini

Before, you were a story:

a stack of pictures and letters that gathered,

growing up.

You were my father’s

smiles, his

early morning long-distance phone calls,

his late brother’s face

in a little girl.

Now we sit in this space; our grandmother’s

bed, together,

a bowl of tangerines

between us. You are real.

We smile at each other in silence,

each without a sister,

feeding one another.

The peels gather,

curled in piles, like your letters on my father’s desk.

The desert sun splashes

over the room through the scratched glass,

and the citrus vapors wade

in the warmth.

I watch as your scarf falls

onto your shoulders, reaching over

to deliver the next slice.

We have the same hair, you know.

We have the same hair, after all.


The Mental Status Exam

Yi Deng

My doctor wears the same outfit every day.

He wears the same expression every day.

He always tells me he is doing well

But I suspect some days he must be sad

Because I’m not getting better.

He can see things in me other people can’t see.

He can hear things in me other people can’t hear.

He talks in circles, he works like a robot,

He’s only harming his health

While he’s trying to help.

I feel reassured my doc belongs in the loony bin with me.

I think he agrees.

He keeps showing up every day!


To My First Patients

Robert Brown

When I met you

you were so thin and your voice was very small

but you smiled and you held my hand

with such warmth.

Your daughter explained how you held on

despite the pain

because you wanted to teach students about your cancer.

Your eyes were plangent when you told me to be, “the best doctor.”

I remember what you taught me and I am grateful.

When I met you

you were tall, muscular, and angry

you wanted people to think you were mean, violent

but you never meant to cut your arm so deeply

and you didn’t want to die

you were fighting your addiction

When I met you

your wife was by your side but I could not tell if you knew it

your eyes showed “one and a half” syndrome

and you could not speak.

I watched the operation, watched the map of your arteries on the screen

and the next day, I met you again

smiling, chatting, moving, sensing

and surrounded by happy family

I had no part in it, but it mattered to no one,

I got hugged like a hero

When I met you

you were feverish, bright red, with cracked lips and a “strawberry” tongue

you were a textbook case

except I was wrong.

If it weren’t for your mom

who knows you best

who knew your right hip was tender when I missed it

who knew when you were pretending to sleep and when you badly needed rest

who was by your side for so many days

I am afraid to think of how long it would have taken me to realize

something was wrong

When I met you

you had a fever and your baby was on the way

you labored all through the night and into the next day

then you delivered

a beautiful baby girl into my hands

and shared a moment of your life with me

which will always make me smile.

So much happened so quickly

when I looked up

you had fallen asleep, exhausted

You must have known when you met me

I would receive much more from you than I could give in return

and you allowed me into your lives

for which I am grateful and will always be grateful