Picture of Austin LamAustin Lam is a medical student at the University of Toronto.


The following two poems are reflections on the nature of interpersonal understanding, relating to the patient’s encounters with health care professionals. The first poem, titled “Strangers — Vicarious Lives”, assumes a voyeuristic point of view inherent in a medical gaze (see The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception) to allow it to reveal itself, including its insidious elements. The second poem, titled “Entrance”, draws inspiration from philosophy, e.g., the Chinese room argument, Mary’s room argument, the symbol grounding problem, and “What Is It Like to Be a Bat” by Thomas Nagel. Here, the question is what makes a patient interaction meaningful, and in turn, what makes something ‘ful’ of meaning. The answer, I believe, lies in the hermeneutic circle. These two poems are intended to be meditations on the nature of interactions and what emerges from them.


Strangers — Vicarious Lives

Walter Mitty, Miss Brill,

We all share an

Intense desire to reach into that mysterious hat


To pull out the rabbit that represents all of who you are;

To see you in all your beauty, warts and all.


Show me what it feels like to be You!

I want to descend into the depths of your soul’s cave

and explore to my heart’s content.



Yet it is so selfish


To objectify the stranger;

To stare into your eyes and

See a void that I wish to Consume.


Danger, Risk — All at play.

A voyeur of the scientific strain.


Intersubjectivity, intrasubjectivity,

Sprouting from unknown places.

Follow the man of the crowd.


Faceless souls whose distant lives

I want to collect as treasures to behold.


The temerity of the Medical Gaze! How dare you!



 Pick up a dictionary of an alien tongue;

Look up each word to find the next.


Down the rabbit hole;

Nothing makes sense.


This text,

‘ful’ of meaning.


Yet un-understandable.

Blindsided by daggers of certitude.


These vessels carrying meaning;

Capsules of mental flesh.


Held and shared,

On an unending voyage.


Jump into the oceanic feeling,

Submit to the waves.


‘ful’ of meaning

But for whom?


The one who does not look.

No exit. No entrance.


Look down.

Excavate the soil on which you stand.