From the Editors 2014

"Letters" from the 2014 IRIS Editors: Lee Hong (MD/PhD year 3), Chris Schifeling (MS2), Will Scott (MS2), Elise Stephenson (MS2), Yi Yang (MS2), Hannah Noah (MS1), and Caleb Pearce (MS1).

Hello dear reader, and welcome to our second edition of IRIS! We have even more submissions from a multi-talented group of students, faculty, and staff, and we can’t wait to share them with you. 

I would have never imagined how far IRIS has come since, as an MS2, I decided to revitalize the journal. We got in touch with Dr. Seth Hawkins, one of the original co-founders of the (print version) journal and a current Emergency Medicine physician at UNC – look forward to a future interview on the history of IRIS next year! My fellow co-editors and I added two new workshops for medical students this year: a painting workshop at the Carrboro Arts Center to celebrate the end of the fall semester, and a spoken word/poetry workshop and event at Linda’s Bar and Grill in downtown Chapel Hill. As I sat back and watched as students chatted, laughed, paused, and even shared intimate stories, I couldn’t help but think that this is how life ought to be – a forever thoughtful and creative process, with inspiring works of art around us and within us.

I even got the wonderful opportunity to promote IRIS on a national level at the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) conference in March 2014! The great news is, we are not alone in our quest to blend medicine and the humanities – medical students across the country are getting the “itch,” as I call it (well, to myself anyway…), and have started or are already running their own versions of IRIS. Through my involvement with the AMSA Medical Humanities Scholars Program, I met poets, artists, and writers – who are all medical students and doctors as well! As a student myself, I am only beginning to
realize how creativity – of pure expression, of humanity, of reflection – is intertwined with medicine.

We hope you enjoy our second edition! I leave you with a short on-the-fly spoken word poem I gave at our spoken word event this year:

-Lee Hong, MD/PhD year 3


I shuffle Rubric’s Russian dolls
because they, unlike an egg, an anthill or social sarcoidosis,
can be unscrambled.

I read up Quixote in Cervantes’ clothes
because God didn’t name the animals
let alone fashion a human-Word dictionary.

I juggle five moons like Pluto
because gravity pulls kinder on rocks
than on telomeres and hearts.

I bully words
because contrary to public belief
the reptilian brain escaped the mother’s heel.



-Chris Schifeling, MS2

Colonel James Kolb’s plane was going down. The tempest had taken out radar and the engines were failing. The only thing that could save him was finding land, and he searched desperately for any sign of it as his copilot “Sarge” wrestled with the controls, trying to stay level. Chaos swirled around him, but Colonel Kolb had been there before, and he had ice in his veins. Well, not really. He was actually a tad hyperthermic, and the only foreign substance in his veins was 0.9% saline solution and a bit of ceftriaxone from the IV in his arm. Colonel James T Kolb, or “Pops”, as we called him, was actually in Moses Cone hospital for his third case of pneumonia in as many months. “Sarge” was really the portly, affable orderly that came in when Pops slipped into delirious spells because his presence seemed to be calming. To watch the scene play out in front of us --- Pops barking orders at “Sarge” and cracking grim jokes, trying to keep the “plane” in the air --- was at once terrifying and hilarious. We couldn’t help but laugh, not just at the absurdity of it all, but because this was Pops as he was meant to be.

As a veteran of the great depression, the storming of Iwo Jima, and four marriages, Pops had lived a full life. He was a world traveler who had counted generals and Indian chiefs among his friends. He was the kind of grandfather who beat his (admittedly scrawny) grandchildren in canoe races well into his eighties, and whose stories and jokes taught us way more about sex than we were officially allowed to know at the time. It seemed to us like he was the youngest old man in the world until, all of a sudden, he wasn’t. Over the last eight years of his life Pops grew stooped and weak. His famously excellent memory began to cloud and he slowly forgot the people in his life. Dementia is an evil disease, one that robs the victim of their sanity, memories and identity, and it was awful for my family to watch our beloved Pops succumb.

Pops never did recover from his pneumonia. He died in that hospital bed, too delirious to truly say goodbye to his family. It was one of the saddest days of my life. But Pops was the kind of man who wasn’t meant to die connected to millions of tubes in a hospital bed, a shell of his former self. He was meant to die in command of a crashing plane, battling the tempest with all of his might. It comforts me to know that for all that dementia took from him, at least it gave him that.

All is dark around the plane
the colonel sees the light
flame flickering softly in the wind, a rather pretty sight
how lovely it is says the sarge
until the colonel cries
you fool! The engine is ablaze, that light means our demise!
Then all is surely lost to us!
Exclaimed now sweating sarge The colonel turned to face his friend, his profile looming large:

“We shall not go quiet on this good night
We shall rage, rage against that damned light
Now grab the yoke with all your might”

And so they fought against the storm
And ‘gaisnt their downward spin
But alas there are some fights that man is not equipped to win

All is dark around the plane
The colonel sees the light, again

-Will Scott, MS2

"My Grandmother’s Legacy"

~ I come from a family of artists, and while I have not cultivated particularly impressive skills of my own, the arts remind me of home. They remind me of my grandmother, whose every movement left beauty in her wake. An artist of canvas, stitch, and seed, she left her mark on all of us. Four years since her death, her face still colors the holidays we celebrate. I think of Easter and see the ornate decorations we added to every perfectly oval boiled egg, or the painted animal faces that littered stones throughout her garden. Sorting through the paintings she left behind, I contemplated her legacy. My uncle, a professional painter in New York City, shares her strong political opinions as well as her brush stroke. My aunt’s love for fashion and fine jewelry recalls my grandmother’s own tendency toward the finer things in life. Yet trinkets are forgotten as she digs her fingers deep into the muddy brown soil to tender to a garden so beautiful that you might think it belonged to my grandmother. And then there is my mom, my rock. The glue that holds our family together through endless strength and selflessness. The stiches of her steady hand adorn more than just our clothing. They secure us all as the forces of life threaten to unravel the fabric of our lives. As my mom fills the matriarch role once claimed by our creative hero, my grandmother’s beauty lives on. I continue to see her and learn from her in the unique ways in which my family members follow in her footsteps. I may not share her artistic skill, but I will always carry the impression she left on me. She taught me how to slow down and admire beauty in all of its forms. IRIS reminds me of that lesson as I challenge myself to carry the poise and strength that made my grandmother so beautiful. ~

 Rabbit and Doe

"Rabbit" and "Doe," acrylic on stone

-Elise Stephenson, MS2

"Awaiting Spring"

My cousin first introduced me to cross-stitching. I discovered that picking up thread and moving my hands to create something through repetitive motion was very peaceful and calming.

Awaiting Spring

-Yi Yang, MS2


Hannah Noah

Acrylic on canvas

-Hannah Noah, MS1

I was never really introduced to poetry. I "found" poetry after my father was diagnosed with cancer and I needed a means to express my emotions without depressing/harassing anyone else. I would write my thoughts and feelings down just to remove them from my head (a form of intellectual therapy that I began to adore). I enjoy listening to Spoken Word pieces with passion and emotion because that is what I can relate to and what originally captivated me about poetry. I write to liberate myself from the confines of life’s stressors and to transform negativity into passion and motivation. Below is one of my poems that expresses my “style” of writing.


"Cancerous Perception"

Get up dad,

Get up and show me the YOU that you once were,

Before the cancer.

Before the hours of radiation and oncological interventions

Before medicine captivated your soul and looted your intuition

I have wasted too many days worrying about your demise to see the climaxes of life.

Stand up for all who think you can

Stand up because you never were a quitter before

Stand up and exit from the iron door of death that trapped your dreams

Be the defender of our home


I remember a time when everyone I knew coveted your personality

Respecting every word you delivered from your deep, bass voice.

I remember when you never settled for anything less than perfection.


Yet, now as deception innervates your mind and your perception turns opaque

I grieve,

And pray

(Mostly the former than the ladder)

That “today will be the day”

When you rise from your chair and the depression of your condition

And get back to the man you preached to your children

The man that said “never quit”



I know you deserve better

But the only way out is not to cease to exist

Rather to resist the temptation of surrender


Because right now your negativity is more malignant than your cancer

And though I continuously seek an answer to the “why?” of all this

I understand it is a resolution that I will never be able to find

Yet until one of our two hearts stop circulating the blood that unites us as family

I will never give up on the man you once were

and the man I know you can be.

-Caleb Pearce, MS1