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Poetry and Medicine
November 10, 2010

The Hardest Thing

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2010;304(18):1991. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1538

An ordinary Thursday afternoon, first patient late.
He sits where one-year checkups always do,
on his parent's lap, new-hatched wariness
soon dispelled. All is well—two days from now
I’m on vacation. And when, as in the usual
course of things I feel his belly, I feel
the mass that fills the whole right side.
Because I have done this before, and because
in that instant the ghosts of thirty years materialize,
I know that in the next two minutes I’ll destroy
this couple's world as now they know it. And the rest
of the afternoon, as reports come in from lab and ultrasound,
I’ll say to other parents what is true for them
right now, “You have a healthy child.”

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