Brianna Stewart

Artist Statement:

I once had a patient who would only ask me questions about her condition and the course of her treatment. I wasn’t the student following her case, but she would pull me aside after we rounded on her to ask me to come back when I had time. She claimed that I could understand where she was coming from and her fear being in the hospital where everything seemed to be out of her control. This poem was inspired by her, my family, and the repetitive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion sentiments I encountered during this residency interview cycle.

Brianna Stewart, University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria, Class of 2022


The doctor sits down across from me. He asks,
“Do you want to try the new medication?”

I remember when I was a little girl
Summer evenings spent riding my bike
I can hear the beads at the end of my braids,
They clink together and gently brush my cheeks
Me, swaying side to side as I pedal
Vaseline melting between my thighs
My thoughts melting away, I close my eyes and ride

No one posed impossible questions then
He sits there and asks me if I want to try a new medication

I wonder
I wonder if he knows
About the Tuskegee Syphilis trials
Henrietta Lacks and her cells, stolen
Families who could not mourn their loss
Promises that were not kept

I wonder if he knows
How my grandfather died
My dad always avoided the doctor
Says they drowned his father
He watched him struggle for last breaths in a hospital bed
Held his hand as he melted away

I wonder if he knows
Women who look like me
Are three times more likely to die of complications from pregnancy
About eugenics and sterilization
We were not meant to exist here; they keep trying to remove us
One day, I’ll rebel and have children of my own

I wonder if he prescribes this to all his patients,
Or just the ones of color
He asks if I want to try a new medication
Says it’s the best they have

How do I tell him I’m terrified?

Wish I could melt back into the days of bikes, Vaseline, beads
Swaying carefree, side to side, eyes closed
Everything was simple then. Innocent then
No need to decipher physician intentions
I can’t become another experiment

I wonder if I should take the risk
I force a smile. “Sure, I’ll try.”