I am the emotion for this machine


September 15, 2020

I am the emotion for this machine

Her eyes blink heavily
beneath a sloppy wig
Chest rising and falling
Heart beating hard
as I touch my sister’s wrist

She can’t react
when the nurses drag the breathing tube
across her eye, let it sit tangled in her hair
so I wince instead, ask them to be careful
remind them she is my sister

I am showing the care they cannot
because empathy needs vulnerability
a human cloud of warm breath
and imperfect skin
eyes flickering like twin flames
and a hundred other tiny movements
this machine can't make
an invisible overlap
that separates and binds us
So I lean in and tuck her hair
behind her ear
the hard plastic shell
makes it harder
but I can still feel
for my sister made of steel 

About the writer: My name is Gretchin Lair, I am an actor who works with medical professionals in educational scenarios in the OHSU Simulation Center and across Oregon and Washington. I pretend to be someone I'm not to give learners a chance to practice the kinds of people I know they want to be.

I am most often the body in the room, speaking directly as the patient. But sometimes I am the patient's friend or family member, and the "patient" is a mannequin. Simulation is always a delicate balance of fact and fiction. But even if the environment isn't perfectly precise, my job is to make the emotion as true and visible as possible. In a hospital setting, patients may be afraid to say or show something that would jeopardize their care or the care of a loved one. But in simulation, making my outsides more like my insides benefits everyone. 

My favorite place is the intersection of art and science. Medicine is the perfect place to explore compassion, consent and vulnerability, which are magnified when providers are asked to hold a patient's heart in their hands, literally and figuratively. Exploring those themes in a safe space is critical in simulation activities and in poetry.

When I’m not teaching communication skills to providers, I am a recovering calligrapher, unrequited astronomer, gentle adventurer and unfinished poet.

Gretchin is a winner of OHSU Library's annual poetry contest. Her poem is archived in the Library’s Digital Collections and will also be showcased in the OHSU Library entrance.  Winning poets will be invited to read their poems at the Medicine as Poetry, Poetry as Medicine event, to be held next spring.