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The Healing Touch

The Healing Touch
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Composed, I walked out of the hospital room. I believed that physicians should not cry in front of their patients. It was only when I locked myself in the bathroom that I began to sob, feeling powerless to help Mr. C in any way.Every afternoon, I met with his wife and daughter. They continued to call me “doctor” even though I explained I was just a medical student. In private, they confided that their husband and father rarely complained, that it was likely he was in more pain than he showed. I would explain what pain medications we were giving him, and that we would increase the dose to manage his pain as necessary. I would explain how the steroids helped to improve his appetite and energy. I would explain how the radiation would hopefully kill the tumor cells, and help to shrink it. I would explain how the oncologist was planning to use different chemotherapy drugs to kill the metastasized. They clung to my words, as if words had healing power.

Weeks later, on my last day on the service, Mr. C was still in the hospital, waiting for a port placement for chemotherapy. At the end of my morning physical examination, I told him, “Today is my last day. I wanted to say goodbye and wish you the best.”

He replied, “Thank you so much for all your help. I don’t suppose I’ll ever see you again. I wanted to let you know that your kindness meant a lot.” A single tear flowed down his cheek. I could not hold my tears back. He reached for my hand, pressing it firmly.

Janet Shu is a second year medical resident at the Harvard Longwood Psychiatry Training Program. She graduated with honors from Brown University, where she did a Senior Capstone Project in Creative Writing with C. D. Wright. Other honors include winning 2nd place in the national DeBakey poetry contest, membership in the Boston Poetry Union, and acceptance in various publications. She is interested in all forms of writing including narrative medicine, but poetry is her first love. To order a chapbook of her poetry, please email Janet at

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