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Poetry and Medicine
October 3, 2012

The Unscathed Veteran and the Anesthesiologist

Author Affiliations

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

Author Affiliation: Veterans Affairs, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, California (

JAMA. 2012;308(13):1301. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.8329

You were the lucky one.
No more checking pre-dawn alleys for the end of the world,
no more buddies eviscerated beside you.
You were home free and devil-may-care restless,
till a night of beer, a motorcycle, a wall.
You twitch to my question about your comfort,
fight to stay polite.
The docs say I stood on it too soon — messed up.
You're young, I say, it’ll heal.
In the purgatory of the holding area
no family member to sit by your gurney,
you prickle with the torment of inaction.
So I sit with you.
We wait for your surgeon to ink initials on your leg;
until then, I hold your dreams in my syringe.
You are the new wave of veteran:
younger than my son, older than my daughter.
Your eyes jerk at the slightest sound, your body tenses,
flicks and tics, then suddenly
you are still, a hushed forest after a twig snaps.
The impatient future bears down on you, and
with the wide, red eyes of a trapped animal,
you look at me for the first time.
What's taking so long? you erupt.
You grip the side rail and plead,
all I want is to go back,
be with my buddies.
Then defiant and quiet, arms crossed over your chest:
I’m signing up again
just so you know —
soon as I’m healed.

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