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Poetry and Medicine
March 14, 2012

Eight Years

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to

Author Affiliation: Department of Family Medicine, Kaiser Permanente, Santa Rosa, California (

JAMA. 2012;307(10):1003. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.153

When first we met
you were a ferret
small and stretched
whip-thin with fear,
anxious beads of sweat
swelling and dancing across your scalp,
like water on a skillet left to burn,
like rain on a brittle late November leaf.
My god how I dreaded it, all of it,
your name lurking like a bomb
in my schedule, our time together,
the ways you scowled—yes, ways,
damnit—you turned a frown
into performance art.
But most of all the way I felt
after it was over, whatever it was we did,
the hollow useless ball expanding
just south of my diaphragm
confirming the nothing
I had done for you.
That, I dreaded most.
But you and I have travelled around the sun
eight times now,
and today you asked me for a favor:
to ride the wave of your panic
the next time it crashed over you,
to stay in the room with you—
don't bar the door, but don't let you leave—
because, you said, you knew
that you were safe.
How did we get here? You no longer
feral and fearful, me a sort of sandbar in the storm.
I do not know for sure, only
there was no speed dial, no fast forward,
no magic, nothing more,
or less, than the two of us coming together
from time to time, over time,
until at last I began to see you
and you, me,
and you knew I was your doctor,
and I knew you were my patient,
and isn't that something?

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