By Joe Corcoran, M1

Joe Corcoran, M1, photographed here at Denali National Park in Alaska prior to medical school

In the winter, North Philadelphia is slick with ice.

Black,

and overlooked.

It shortens your stride,

and limits your movement.

Students

shuffle quickly

on their way to class.

Headphones in.

iPhones out.

They don’t notice what goes underfoot.

Sometimes… they slip.

But even when they fall,

others help them up.

They continue as though nothing happened.

One more block means time for one more song.

Volume cranked up. Eyes straight ahead.

Heads tilted back ever so slightly.

Holding eye contact long enough to get by,

just not long enough to make any connection.

Ahead, our destination looms above

brightly lit and well-shoveled sidewalks.

Much of the ice is gone,

and salt litters the cement in its place.

Our pace quickens now with longer strides,

as we seek to leave the cold, the wet,

the icy and unforgiving behind.

We enter the golden door,

which spins

to keep our worlds separate.

We pass through:

security,

turnstiles,

11 gleaming floors of

windows that do not open.

Barriers to insulate us from the ice.

We strip off our hats and our mittens — our common-man layers,

and insulate ourselves in new wrappings:

white coats and latex gloves,

the sterile swaths of our profession.

We diagnose idiopathic cervical radiculopathy.

Because how could we say

something is wrong with your neck

and I don’t know what it is,

when that would reveal imperfection,

and self-doubt?

When that would strip away all the dressings

we so carefully applied?

When that would melt all the ice?


Michael Vitez, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism at The Philadelphia Inquirer, is the director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Michael.vitez@temple.edu

Stories from Temple’s Narrative Medicine Program

Led by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Vitez, Temple’s Narrative Medicine Program focuses on the human side of medicine through a celebration of and emphasis on stories and storytelling.

    Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

    Written by

    Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Exceptional students, clinicians and researchers with zeal for education, research and patient care.

    Stories from Temple’s Narrative Medicine Program

    Led by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Vitez, Temple’s Narrative Medicine Program focuses on the human side of medicine through a celebration of and emphasis on stories and storytelling.

    Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
    Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
    Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade