Winners of the Drs. Theresa and Charles Yeo Writing Prize pen vulnerable stories about the realities of this historic pandemic and turbulent times to share with future generations.
While we may not think of ourselves as writers, we all harbor creativity, and our roles as members of a university and health system place each of us in a unique position to witness and be a part of incredible stories every day.
Jefferson’s inaugural Drs. Theresa and Charles Yeo Writing Prize is a call to share these stories and recognize their impact on ourselves and our community.
“We’re pleased to support this annual writing contest of the Eakins Writers’ Workshop in celebration of the Jefferson community,” said Drs. Theresa Yeo and Charles Yeo. “Caring for others is a privilege, and in these challenged times, there are countless stories to tell. In the midst of an historic pandemic, through our care, we have experienced and witnessed so much. We are forever changed. These works memorialize these events with the sincere hope that through them we can find meaning and understanding from all that has happened.”
The contest invited all members of the Jefferson community to engage in the empowering act of writing. Organizers called for submissions of personal essays to the following prompt:
Imagine that we’re creating a time capsule to be laid in the foundation of one of our new Jefferson buildings. It will be opened 100 years from now, in 2121. Reflecting on the past year—which has presented us with a range of challenges, including a global pandemic and a national reckoning on racial equality—what story would you put into the time capsule for future generations?
Authors were encouraged to focus on specific moments or stories they have experienced or witnessed. The judges evaluated submissions on the ability to creatively and insightfully respond to the prompt in a way that informs and moves the reader.
Winners and honorable mentions will have their entries featured in the fall 2021 issue of Evanescent. The literary journal published by the Jefferson Center for Injury Research and Prevention will include many other submissions as well.
The essays will give a window into what it was like to live through 2020 for decades—if not centuries—to come, says Dr. Danielle Snyderman, family and community medicine associate professor and co-editor-in-chief of Evanescent.
“Working in a university and health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic, no matter our role, positions us to be story collectors,” she says. “Through the creation of the Yeo Writing Prize, the Eakins Writers’ Workshop aimed to create an opportunity to demystify writing. Where there are stories to be told, we believe anyone can be a writer. We wanted to give voice to the rich, diverse and human stories that make up our community. As editors, we were so moved and humbled by the vulnerability and humanity that came across in each entry. Bearing witness to these stories as both a reader and a writer can be a form of self-care.”
Read excerpts of the winning essays below and their full pieces here.
“June” by Dr. David Peters
“Let me see you without your mask,” she pleaded. I lowered my mask. “Oh! You are going to make such beautiful babies,” she said. I blushed. Her comment surprised me. It was funny and colorful, gleaming through the silt of a series of identical, dispiriting days.
To June, a 67-year-old woman with newly diagnosed pancreatic adenocarcinoma, I was transparent. She knew that I did not understand the complexities of her condition well and that the vague updates I gave her each day collectively implied her bleak prognosis. Confronting her mortality over the course of her admission was as unpredictable as it was painful for her, an oscillation between emotional extremes, an avalanche to endure without a soul to receive her rescue signal. Her abdomen seared from within. Her red, sunken eyes echoed a depth of suffering beyond what I could conceive.
But, through the scrapheap of my annotated handoffs and used gowns, she found something to hold on to, something from which I too had become estranged: me.
Dr. David Peters is a resident in the family and community medicine department.
“The Elevator Crisis” by Ellen Solomon
Around 1 p.m., my attending and I were called out of a patient room mid-visit with a request for help. We learned that one of the morning patients was refusing to leave the clinic. It caught us by surprise, as this 19-year-old gentleman with autism was remarkably calm, cooperative and interactive during our visit.
Now, in the discharge area, he was hunched over in a chair, hands clenched around a clinic toy, eyes fixed on the floor. It was clear that he had been in this position for nearly an hour. Finally, after 30 minutes of coaxing and help from various team members, his rigid posture relaxed, his furrowed brow softened and he hesitantly stood from the chair. As we took careful steps toward the elevator, I saw relief bloom on his mother’s face.
This relief was short-lived. As the patient crossed the threshold of the elevator, his demeanor shifted. In a moment, he was curled in a ball on the floor of the elevator, head in hands and unwilling to move. We tried everything: toys, snacks, a call from his father, fewer people, more people, a water bottle, his favorite song. He wouldn’t budge. He was frozen in time, scared, beyond our reach.
Ellen Solomon is a Sidney Kimmel Medical College student.
“Being a Black Nurse During Two Pandemics: A Test of Faith” by Chanel Hart
Who knew that, in the year 2020, “I can’t breathe” would change the world forever? At first, it was the cry of the people, mainly African American or Black like me. It was a cry of injustice at the hands of the police but later turned to the cries of the people regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. “I can’t breathe” was but an ignored whisper from the lips of George Floyd, but there was no ignoring the screams of “I can’t breathe” that came from the millions of men and women who gasped for air after being infected with COVID-19.
In the midst of it all, stood me, the Black nurse in a predominately white profession who had to help the sick both physically and mentally while being heartbroken at the loss of another Black man at the hands of the police.
Chanel Hart is a nurse in the family and community medicine department and a member of the Jefferson Community and Family Medicine Social Justice Committee and Jefferson Enterprise Diversity and Inclusion Council.