Caught between Floating and Drowning, a reflection about poetry, memory and adapting to chaos by Mikayla Brockmeyer — Intima

A state of flux. The COVID-19 pandemic has induced a state of “How will I react to _____?” Listlessness and emotional exhaustion bring about feelings of isolation and longing to be somewhere we are not. Yet, in learning to modify behaviors, collaborations have emerged.

In the opening couplet to Sheila Kelly’s poem entitled “ Breathe” (Fall 2017 Intima). she sets the stage and introduces a poignant metaphor, depicting calmness, yet incertitude.

You are floating in the swimming pool again.
Your childhood best friend rises like prayer.

“Breathe” was penned well before the current pandemic, yet the feelings of serenity and safety one day, and panic the next, expressed are relevant today. Using a second-person narrative, she paints a vivid picture of a disjointed home life, sifting through old, painful memories. In the poem, the main character is catapulting between chaos and “floating in the swimming pool.” At the end, I interpret a sense of adaptation from the character that leaves a residue of hope.

In my essay “Turbulent Undertow” (Fall 2020 Intima), parallel feelings are grappled with, as I describe a surfing attempt, and later, my experience as a hospitalist scribe. Woven together, I write about two near-drowning experiences: on surfing and on caring for patients with COVID-19. The best friend in Sheila Kelly’s poem encourages the main character to put on her old swimsuit when distressed. After a long series of days working with the hospitalist, I, too, wanted to offer solace. But instead, all I could offer was “Glad you’re okay,” a phrase that has reverberated through my brain ever since I first heard it myself.

Riding metaphorical surfboards together and finding ways to float in metaphorical swimming pools may not be the best solution to curb the emotional toll of the pandemic. However, validation and shared human connection serve as two ways to avoid possible drowning amidst the pandemic waves.

Mikayla Brockmeyer is a first year osteopathic medical student at Des Moines University in Des Moines, Iowa. She began working as a hospitalist scribe in 2018, while she was enrolled in the Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences program at Des Moines University. She successfully defended her thesis in 2019 and spent her gap year scribing full time. This is her first time showcasing her storytelling abilities in a public arena. Her non-fiction essay “Turbulent Undertow” appears in the Fall 2020 Intima.

Originally published at on January 10, 2021.

Intima is a literary journal dedicated to the practice of narrative medicine, an inter-disciplinary field forging bonds with caregivers and patients.