Member-Submitted Stories

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ACLP 55-Word Stories

We are seeking stories of 55 words or less from our members, their trainees, and their teammates regarding their experiences in CL contexts in the current crisis, including how the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted them. We are inspired by a web page from the University of Washington, The use of 55-word stories in medicine was originally suggested by Anne Scheetz, MD, and Mary E. Fry, MD, JAMA  2000;283(15):1934. Their original instructions are in italics below.

We hope that this creative forum will provide an opportunity to share experiences and reflections with each other during this very challenging and emotional time, in a way that helps us to feel more connected and less isolated.

Please send your stories to our submission email, This story project is being run by the ACLP Residency Education Subcommittee, under the leadership of Carrie Ernst, MD, Chair, and Sarah Slocum, MD. We will post a selection of the narratives obtained. Submission of a story is giving us permission to post your content. Any information which might allow the identification of an individual or institution must be avoided.

Please include your name and institutional affiliation and role (attending, resident, fellow, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, social worker, psychologist, etc), but stories will be posted anonymously, without name or affiliation.

Thank you in advance for participating!

From the original article of Dr. Scheetz and Fry:

 “Think of the most interesting, or the most haunting, patient of your day, or the one about whom you have dreamed repeatedly over the past months. Quickly write down everything that comes to your mind, mixing fact, fantasy, supposition, if you like.

Your story should be much too long.

Then, start cutting.

Take away the less interesting, the unnecessary. Try to make one word do for two. Try to make some information known without saying it in so many words. As you work, try to discern a dramatic structure in your story: a plot. When you have cut all you can, put the story away, and come back to it in a day or a week. Keep working until you get down to the 55 words that tell your story sparingly but accurately.”

Numbers and stats, graphs and lines
Up and down, some the same
Clouds of hope mixed with fear are hourly, daily

Waiting for that tiny beam of light, like the head of a pin
Down the endless tunnel

Deep sighs, cast down eyes


Somewhere inside the fire ignites
Time to slay the dragon

Nurse Clinician, November 21, 2020

Everyday beauty

He and his wife were infected by coronavirus. Two octogenarians adhering to the statistics, only one of them was doing well. “Every day, while separated in opposite rooms, her aid would wheel her to him.”

And when she held his hand, their 5 decade-long connection would transcend the grip of confusion.

Fellow, November 22, 2020

Strength, sensation, taste, speech, gait—I’ve lost
much of myself during the pandemic. Is this
psychological or a disease? My physicians had no
answers for so long but finally do. The loss feels
intensely painful, like my hands and feet. I want
to pity myself but see others who have lost more.

Haven’t we all?

Attending Psychiatrist, November 23, 2020

0.2 FTE of me
Wishes to walk back into the den
One third beckons my pupils,
Their pupils too occluded with despair, to see
A better half of me whispers, ”Patience!“
Another half – my father’s son – defiantly thumps its chest
All of me is torn, it mourns
As I gaze towards the battleground, gripping my toddler’s fingers…

Attending Physician, March 31, 2020

The nurse supervisor received too many after-work calls and immediately blamed inadequate psychiatric medication or “resistance.” The psychiatrist griped about patient overmedication. Fortnight before, “social distancing” dictated ban of visitors, volunteers, and all-comers’ group therapy. Chow was staggered – some patients ate while others watched and waited their turn. Could COVID-19 cause this “drug resistance?”

Fellow, March 30, 2020


I’m a stair climber. I have ascended the 21st floor all in one go, conquering my own hospital mountains. When a policy change required me to don a mask and wear it always, I huffed my way up the stairwell, suddenly short of breath, unsure if I could continue trekking while carrying this new burden.

Fellow, April 1, 2020


Torn at every turn:
Patients, bosses, friends, students
Parents, spouses, sons, daughters
“If you volunteer for this, who
will tell them why Mom isn’t coming home?
How to decide which
fight is the right fight
when there is no right?
Hope, cry, sleep, and
mask up.

CL Fellow, April 6, 2020


Weeds still grow in storms. Similarly, tumors do not stop on account of COVID-19. Like weeds pushing through cracked concrete, tumors push on through flesh. In this pandemic, family is barred from bedside. How many shoes can this intern fill? She is now both caregiver and confidante. And the weeds keep growing all the same.

Resident, April 7, 2020


The Psychiatric Inpatient Unit during COVID:

The attending is supervising from home. Best to stay safe.

The resident is rounding by iPad. Best to stay safe.

The social worker is interviewing by iPhone. Best to stay safe.

Psychotherapy provided by Zoom.  Best to stay safe.

The nurse is with the patient. Need more be said?

Attending physician, April 14, 2020


Today’s google search:
Learn how to cut your own hair
Then: Amazon hats

Every breath you take
Please don’t stand so close to me
Sting’s words of wisdom

Yoga video
Tells me I’m doing good job
Eating Doritos

Attending physician, April 15, 2020


                     A newspaper editor in a mental healthcare desert asked for self-help resources to counter anxiety about the pandemic in a little midwestern town. A colleague and I shape shifted into Sahara Resurrection Plants, tumble weeds finding puddles, sprouting flowers, seeds. Now all we need is a good rain — and David Attenborough.

Attending physician, April 18, 2020



Now that I must cover the rest of my face, my eyes must express so much for me: 

Compassion to patients.
Admiration for colleagues spending their days on the COVID floor.
Gratitude to people I pass at the hospital, whose faces make up the tapestry of my day.

Steeling myself, I carefully apply eye makeup.

Attending psychiatrist, April 29, 2020


The COVID list-serve casts much-needed light,
Psychiatrists sharing experience and insight,
Supporting each other through the terrible fight.
But email volume has reached a frightening height,
So please remember to do what is right:
When your message is for one person not all,
PLEASE remember don’t use REPLY-ALL!

Attending psychiatrist, May 1, 2020


Free food
For I am essential
Barely through the drive-thru, I eat my chicken nuggets
She sits on the sidewalk
“Homeless, help, anything”
Light turns green
My excuse to leave
For one moment, a parallel
When humanity devoured all PPE
Leaving me … alone
Then, the world turns back to normal
And she remains

Attending Psychiatrist, May 7, 2020