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Editor's Comments on 'Syringe to Stethoscope'

 , June 20, 2016

Stethoscopes and syringes are ubiquitous tools of modern medical practice. What if these bits of metal, rubber, and plastic could voice their emotions? This whimsical poem by Sadaf Qureshi explores this very notion. But the poem is more than an exercise in personification; its description of how these medical tools help us as physicians care for patients is layered with deeper meanings.
The stethoscope is personal; we typically have one that we have owned for years and use on multiple patients per day. Some of us (particularly those of us in pediatrics) have individualized our stethoscopes with name tags and decorations. The syringe is sterile, disposable, impersonal, and once used, quarantined in a sharps container for proper disposal. When juxtaposed, these medical tools perfectly epitomize the tension between personal connection with patients and professional distance. That border – the one “between heal and hurt” – is the line we toe when we must temporarily inflict pain through needle pricks, uncomfortable physical exams, radiation exposure, or chemotherapy, in order to diagnose and treat for the ultimate goal of healing. Through our negotiation of this border, we seek to be objective but also emotionally present for our patients.

Perhaps these paradoxes are best understood through the metaphors of stethoscope and syringe. How can we reconcile pain and healing? How can we be close, but not too close? The answers might be in our hands every day.

Irène Mathieu