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Poetry and Medicine
February 4, 2009

Orientation

Author Affiliations
 

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

JAMA. 2009;301(5):466. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.981

To assess her mental status post-stroke,
her orientation to person, place and time,
the attending physician asked three things
of Great-Aunt Bea, family matriarch
(named after Dante) who sang an aria
from La Traviata eighty years before
on a sunny railway platform for the last Tsar:
the name of the current US President
(Bush, she coughed); where she now lay
(not home—even half-demented, half-
blind, no confusing this dim room
with home); and the year. A pause
for recollection, or stray thought . . . 
outside, the bare branches of the elms
swayed in the fine rain; above her
the muted TV ran grainy images
of soldiers fleeing Kuwait, scudding
back to Iraq. I don't know, but it's not
been a very good year for me. I know
what you mean said the Doctor—
Ibrahim his nametag read—on behalf
of all of us congregated at her bedside
at Detroit Mercy Hospital, 2/27/91.

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