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Poetry and Medicine
October 24/31, 2012

Do Not Resuscitate

Author Affiliations
 

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

Author Affiliation: Division of Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee (brenda.butka@vanderbilt.edu).

JAMA. 2012;308(16):1613. doi:10.1001/2012.jama.11596

I can say
your father is dying.
I can say
wishing will not make it so,
belief doesn't change a thing.
I can say
love does not conquer all,
miracles are pretty stories told in church,
the movies you saw as a child are lies,
blind hope is not a recipe for success,
underdogs usually lose,
death is not the worst thing, it is just
the last thing.
But for you that is not true.
I can say
we have to pretend
that we can bring him wheezing
back to you like an old accordion,
chest pleating in and out,
singing his customary songs,
oxygen bumping its hurdy-gurdy way again
through his ancient heart.
But how can I tell you how
someone will shout down the hallway, kneel
frantic on the bed,
lean his fists against that old breastbone, sharp, frail,
one onethousand, two onethousand, and count it out.
I can say
we should not do this.
He will never be the same.
I can say
if it were my father.
I can say
do not confuse resuscitation
with resurrection, although
neither works particularly well.
You look like you are drowning,
pallid and slow in the waiting room’s
underwater light.
So. Tell me.
Tell me again.
Tell me about your father.

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