"She Makes the First Cut" by Linda Tomol Pennisi

1. What does the mother try to communicate to her daughter? How does she communicate with her, considering the distance of “one hundred miles” that is between them?
2. What is the nature of the distance between mother and daughter? Might it be temporal as well as spatial? (Things to consider: the distance between childhood and adulthood, the developing, changing relationship between daughter and mother.)
3. How does this poem explore the daughter/mother relationship? What types of language and images are used?
4. Discuss medicine as art.
5. How does the poet use the imagery of the hands?
6. Comment on the structure and the flow of the poem.
7. Discuss the musical instruments and the meaning of music in this poem.
8. What is the connection between medicine and music? How does music function in the poem? What effect does it have on the mother and how is the performance of music analogous or linguistically/imagistically linked to cutting open a cadaver? Is such a connection unexpected or jarring, especially when stripped of the poetic apparatus? How and why? How does the poem make such a connection work?
9. What insight does the poem provide into the character or feelings of the daughter? What might serve as an indication of the nature of the other side of this mother/daughter relationship?

Keywords: Art, Childhood, Family, Fear, Love, Medicine, Memory, Music, Parenthood, Relationships, Time

"I Want to Tell My Daughter Not to Name the Cadaver by Linda Tomol Pennisi

1. Discuss the connection between this poem and “She Makes the First Cut.”
2. Why doesn’t the mother want her daughter to name the cadaver? What would it mean for the daughter if she named the cadaver?
3. What connects the mother and daughter, particularly in light of the last line, the “delicate synapses?”
4. What does the mother understand about the experience of dissecting a cadaver – that perhaps her daughter/student doesn’t know?
5. Is the mother a doctor? A musician?
6. Discuss the blurring of boundaries between the mother, daughter, and cadaver.
7. The poem seems to start in the middle of an idea, with the word “but.” Does the “but” follow from the title’s statement? Or from something else?
8. The narrator hopes that her daughter will not name the cadaver, yet the narrator refrains from sharing this with her daughter. Instead, she only asks “Who?” Why? What does this kind of silencing on the narrator’s part reveal (about herself, her daughter, their relationship, the narrator’s own experience, the medical profession)? What kind of struggle or conflict, in light of her silence, is operating within the narrator? Does her daughter experience the same conflict? Or is there no way to tell what the daughter is thinking and feeling?
9. What does it mean to “remove the person from the body”? Is this at all commensurate with the notion of “the body’s sacredness”? How does the poem negotiate or reconcile these two seemingly disparate views on humanity, life, and medicine?

Keywords: Coping, Death, Doctors, Empathy, Family, Music, Parenthood, Silence, Youth

"MUD" by Thomas McCall

1. How does “medspeak” help health care providers cope with stressful situations? Can acronyms euphemize?
2. How does Darlene help the student? How does she help Leslie?
3. Compare and contrast the student’s image of his wife with his image of Leslie.
4. How does Leslie respond to the student? What do we understand about her character?
5. What does the author mean by “Apathy or anarchy had joined one unit to its neighbor”?
6. How do the student’s feelings about this baby change from “already a goner” to “…incandescent. Heaven’s light”?

Keywords: Doctors, Nurses, Relationships

"The Initiation" by Alicia Ostriker

1. Was the head surgeon helpful to the intern?
2. Does the fact that the poet is a woman make a difference in the response to the last line of the poem: “Boy, he said…”?
3. Discuss the use of family relationships as a literary device.
4. What is the poem saying about the effect of life as a doctor on one’s humanity? How does this conflict with the attitude with which the speaker arrives at the hospital?
5. How does the head surgeon view death and the medical profession? How does death affect him?
6. How does the speaker view death, and how does it affect him?
7. The speaker is never given a chance in the poem to respond to the head surgeon’s instructions/advice. The head surgeon literally has the last word. What effect does this create? Does it seem like the speaker has learned something from the head surgeon? If so, what?
8. What is the relationship between the head surgeon and the speaker with regards to power imbalances?

Keywords: Death, Doctor/Patient Relationships, Education, Empathy, Family, Medicine, Youth

"Love is Just a Four-Letter Word" by David Watts

1. Does “unflinching frankness” bring a new perspective?
2. Did the student overstep the acceptable limits of professional behavior?
3. According to the narrator, everyone recognizes the patient at the ward as “different.” What makes her so different or special? Is this a projection of the doctors, specifically the narrator, onto the patient, making her out to be something more than she is, or a symbol of what they want her to represent? How does her appearance figure into their construction or evaluation of her as different?
4. What would he have said to an older unattractive woman?
5. Is the narrator different from the other doctors at the ward, specifically in his reaction to and treatment of the patient? Does he view himself as separate from them? In what ways?
6. Consider the doctors’ treatment of the patient, their diagnosis and the way they talk about her. Is this professionalism or rude callousness? Compare this to the narrator’s romantic, chivalrous response to her, his imaginative construction of her as a “woman who ‘needed protection.’” What do the two different approaches to doctor-patient relations say about the possibility or impossibility of a connection or understanding, let alone love, between doctor and patient?
7. What divides the narrator from the patient?
8. Consider the title. What does it mean that “love is just a four-letter word.” Does the narrator view it this way? Does the patient?
9. Are we ever provided access to the patient’s perspective? How does she view her situation, her illness, the doctors, and love? And does this affect or change the way the doctor views himself and love?
10. How did the bedside conversation affect the patient?

Keywords: Doctors, Empathy, Language, Love

"Field Trip, Ypsi State" by Roy Jacobstein

1. Whose voice is dominant in this poem?
2. What does the student learn in his interaction with the patient?
3. What do you think he expected from Psych 402? How is this experience different from his expectation?
4. What is the setting of this poem? What kind of atmosphere does that create?
5. What effect does the use of italics create? Locate the lines where italics are used and think about why the poet italicizes what he italicizes?
6. The sentences are fragmented as they run from line to line and stanza to stanza. What effect does this create? How does it contribute to the message of the poem?
7. Who is the woman in conversation with the speaker? How does the speaker view her?
8. Who is the “dolt” of the third to last line?
9. Why did Madge come to New Orleans?

Keywords: Doctor/Patient Relationships, Humor, Isolation

"Ask Him if He Knows Jesus" by C.E. Smith

1. What does the author mean by “contradictions precluded infallibility?”
2. What is the relationship between medicine and religion here? Do they follow similar paths, or are the two mutually exclusive and competing, representing opposite means of healing? Along similar lines, does this story erect a divide between body and soul, or are the two spheres brought together and conceived as inextricably interwoven?
3. What is David’s view of religion? Does he place his faith in religion or in medicine (or both or neither)?
4. Many other issues are raised in this story: the politics of religion, religion’s place in the medical world, medicine’s place in religion, different forms of religion, conversion, the people to be converted, the efficacy of religion, the sincerity or lack thereof of its believers and preachers. Does David change his views on any of these issues?
5. What is the role of witchcraft in this piece? How is it positioned in relation to religion?
6. Why does David decide to volunteer to go to the medical clinic in Venezuela?
7. The medical clinic in Venezuela, with its missionary nature, attempts to make a connection between international health and international religion. Is this connection born out in the piece? Does David agree with this stance and the methods employed to establish such internationalism?
8. Throughout the piece, David seems to view the world through the lens of a doctor, never deviating from medical paths of thought, utilizing scientific metaphors to translate the world into manageable, comprehensible terms. What effect does this have on his interactions with his surroundings, with other people, with his patients? Is it a sign of healthy emotional compensation, or psychological fragmentation?
9. How does this piece view diagnosis and healing? Who diagnoses whom? Is anyone truly healed?
10. During the visit to Camilo, David expresses discomfort and embarrassment. At what moments and why?
11. How does David view Dr. Mitchell? Does this change over the course of the story? Does David learn anything from him?
12. Explain Dr. Mitchell’s change of mind when he first says he won’t visit Camilo, then pays the house call.
13. Is it appropriate for Dr. Mitchell to ask David to pray?
14. Why is David relieved to see that Camilo is still paralyzed after they pray over his legs?
15. What kind of faith is represented in the character of Todd? How does it reflect on what kind of doctor he is? Describe his reaction to the miracle. Is he rejoicing for Camilo and his recovery, or is Todd’s focus more self-centered?
16. Camilo’s recovery—the “miracle”—is staged as a kind of spectacle. How does this reflect on the authenticity or lack thereof of the miracle? What does the spectacle-like nature of the miracle mean for David?
17. Consider this idea of “translation as connection” with relation to a connection between humanity and God, particularly the last line of the piece and the notion of God “mocking us.” Does it suggest connection and understanding as deliberately thwarted or impossible? What does the last line mean?

Keywords: Diagnosis, Faith, Isolation, Memory, Mystery, Science, Translation

"Shobo" by Dannie Abse

1. Who are the characters in this poem? Where are they from? Where is the action taking place?
2. What is the patient’s concept of health, sickness, and the cause of his illness? What is the doctor’s concept of these?
3. What does the poet mean by “malignant eidolon?”
4. Describe the structure and rhythm of the poem.
5. Where and how does the poem work with notions of foreignness and the familiar? Things to consider could be the duality of title, the juxtaposition of medical language with references to the patient’s culture and religion, and the apparent opposition between reason/science/medicine with irrationality/fear/religion/superstition. Is this truly the way the divide falls with respect to the oppositions in the poem? Is religion equated with superstition, fear, irrationality? Does science and medicine provide clarity and knowledge?
6. How does the speaker view his patient and his patient’s culture and religion? Does he take a critical stance, denigrating the patient as superstitious and irrational? Notice the shift in the third stanza. (Consider the doctor’s question of reason and his own rationality.) What form does this shift take and what is its effect? How does this shift effect of the preconceptions the doctor brings to his encounter with his patient, as well as those the reader might bring to this poem?
7. How does the doctor view himself through an imaginative projection into his patient’s perspective? Does this reflection on himself change him?
8. What is the relationship between the doctor and patient? Are the two at an impasse?
9. Is the doctor able to understand and communicate with his patient? Consider the role of translation in this poem. If translation and communication are frustrated, how does that make the speaker feel with regard to himself, his profession, his patient?

Keywords: Doctor/Patient Relationships, Faith, Isolation, Medicine, Mystery, Power, Science, Translation

"Prisoner" by John Stone

1. What is the prison? Who is the prisoner?
2. Does the poet feel that this research is morally correct?
3. What metaphors does the poet use for the illness?
4. How does the opening quotation from Auden relate to the rest of the poem? What or whom does this poem praise?
5. Discuss the historical references, such as allusions to the Vietnam War.
6. How does the speaker define heroism in the poem? What are the examples of heroism he provides? How do they relate to and reflect upon each other?
7. How is malaria represented in the poem? What kinds of metaphors does the speaker use to describe it?
8. Geographical locations mentioned in the poem include Atlanta, Africa, and Vietnam. How are these locations positioned in relation to one another? Does the poem indicate a sense of a global community, or a global threat?

Keywords: Anger, Doctor/Patient Relationships, Freedom, Guilt, Humor, Illness, Malaria, Research, Sacrifice, Veterans, War